The World Anti-Doping Agency, the top international body overseeing anti-drug efforts in sports, has ruled that Russia remains noncompliant with its code, harming the country’s chances of competing in the Winter Olympics this February in South Korea.
At a meeting in South Korea’s capital on Thursday, WADA announced that it was unable to reinstate Russia’s national anti-doping agency, RUSADA, which was suspended after Russia was found to have run a massive state-sponsored coverup of doping by its athletes. Russia was subsequently partially barred from the Summer Olympics and entirely from the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
WADA’s decision raises the prospect that Russia could now suffer a similar fate at the Winter Olympics, taking place in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February. The International Olympic Committee will decide in early December what penalties, if any, to levy against Russia over the doping coverup.
WADA’s ruling will likely increase calls for the IOC to exclude Russian athletes from the Winter Olympics. It also substantially increases the likelihood that Russia will miss the Paralympics; the International Paralympics Committee has said previously Russia will not be allowed to compete again until WADA rules it compliant.
On Thursday, WADA’s chairman, Craig Reedie, said that although Russia had made progress in overhauling RUSADA, it had failed to meet two requirements that would allow its reinstatement: that Russia publicly accept the findings of an independent WADA investigation last year that its doping coverup had been state-sponsored and that Russia give access to athletes’ urine samples collected during the time of the coverup.
“Having set a road map for compliance, there are two issues that have to be fulfilled and we can’t walk away from the commitments,” Reedie said, according to The Associated Press.
Reedie refused to say how WADA’s ruling might affect Russia’s participation at the Winter Olympics. “We do not have the right to decide who takes part in international competition,” Reedie said. “I am quite certain that the IOC would prefer that RUSADA was compliant."
Russian officials disputed WADA’s decision. Sports minister Pavel Kolobkov said, “We believe that Russia has met every requirement for reinstating the Russian Anti-doping Agency.” He added that Russian athletes have been tested by foreign monitors for two years, meaning further doping could not go undetected.
Russia has overhauled RUSADA, removing a number of its top officials who were implicated in the coverup. But Russian officials have never accepted that the cheating was part of a state-sponsored system, instead arguing that it was the work of individual anti-doping officers, coaches and athletes. Russian officials and media have sought to cast doubt on the findings of the so-called McClaren report, an investigation by the Canadian law professor Richard McClaren that was commissioned by WADA and uncovered the scale of the doping scheme.
Last week Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, portrayed the doping allegations as an American-led plot meant to influence the country’s presidential election in March.
“This is what is bothering me -- the Olympics start in February, and when are our presidential elections? In March,” the Russian state-news agency, RIA-Novosti, quoted Putin as saying. “There are big suspicions that all this is being done to create for someone the necessary conditions for discontent among sport lovers, athletes.”
At the WADA meeting on Thursday, the president of Russia’s Olympic Committee and IOC member, Aleksander Zhukov, told the body's members that it is impossible for Russia to fully accept McClaren’s findings. "We absolutely deny the existence of a state-sponsored doping system,” Zhukov said, according to the AP.
McClaren’s investigation last year found an elaborate coverup orchestrated by Russia’s sports ministry and aided by its intelligence services that allowed it to conceal positive tests from hundreds of its athletes between 2011-2015. The coverup affected the “vast majority” of Winter and Summer Olympic sports, the report found.
The findings saw Russia’s track and field team barred from all international competitions, including the Rio Olympics. The IOC ordered international sports federations to decide which Russian athletes could be cleared to compete in Rio and hundreds eventually took part. The International Paralympics Committee took a harder line, banning Russian athletes entirely.
Ahead of the coming Winter Olympics, the IOC has reportedly been weighing punishing Russia by forbidding its national anthem to be played during the Games or excluding Russian athletes from the opening ceremony. There have been calls for harsher punishment, including a full ban.
The IOC’s executive committee is due to meet Dec. 5-7 to hear the results of its own investigation into the Russian doping scheme and to decide what sanctions should be imposed.