Russia sanctions, WADA future on menu in Azerbaijan

The World Anti Doping Agency's executive committee will meet over two days in Azerbaijan and discuss the possibility of gaining access to the Moscow laboratory which is believed to be at the centre of Russia's state-sponsored doping programme.

WADA has faced widespread criticism since a decision in September to lift a ban on the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) paved the way for Russian athletes to return to international competitions.   -  AFP

Gaining access to the Moscow laboratory at the centre of accusations that Russia operated a state-sponsored doping programme could set the tone for the future of the embattled World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) this week.

WADA's executive committee meets over two days in Azerbaijan and, after a tumultuous few months for the body, the sports world will be watching closely.

The organisation has faced widespread criticism since a decision in September to lift a ban on the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) paved the way for Russian athletes to return to international competitions.

RUSADA was initially suspended by WADA in 2016 after an independent report by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren found that more than 1,000 athletes across more than 30 sports were aided by state-sponsored doping.

RUSADA has been at the centre of a standoff between WADA and Russian authorities ever since the body's suspension in November 2015.   -  AP

 

As a result, Russia's track and field team was banned from the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Assailed from all sides -- administrators, national doping agencies and athletes -- WADA now has to convince critics that it will follow up on pledges to access data and deliver sanctions if fresh evidence of wrongdoing is found.

The Russians have until December 31 -- a deadline imposed by WADA -- to grant an independent panel access to the Moscow laboratory.

Russia has promised to fulfil its pledge to give full access, according to WADA director general Olivier Niggli. “Will Russia deliver? We certainly hope so because that is what is best for clean sport but WADA again stands ready to respond if it doesn't,” Niggli told AFP last week.

The Russians have until December 31 -- a deadline imposed by WADA -- to grant an independent panel access to the Moscow laboratory.   -  AP

 

If the deadline for this “moment of truth” is not respected, said Niggli, new sanctions could be dealt -- a scenario that RUSADA chief Yury Ganus said “would be devastating for us”.

Yet, against the backdrop of a 2019 presidential election for which candidates to replace incumbent Craig Reedie -- an International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president who has served two years -- are already queuing up, WADA faces a potentially bigger challenge.

The organisation's impartiality and independence -- especially vis-a-vis the IOC -- has been questioned by several leading figures including Travis Tygart, the CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the man who played a key role in bringing down disgraced American dope cheat Lance Armstrong.

Tygart has claimed the IOC is too close to WADA and that athletes' confidence in their system is now “in tatters” following the decision to lift the RUSADA ban.

“The process was a secret, backroom deal. The process itself stunk, and the decision itself too,” Tygart told AFP last month. WADA vehemently denied Tygart's claims.

Tygart is seen as a potential candidate for the presidency of WADA. According to rules the next president should be a member of the nation states which provide, along with the IOC, half of WADA's budget.

Travis Tygart, the US Anti-Doping Agency chief executive.   -  AFP

 

Norwegian minister Linda Helleland, a vocal critic of WADA, declared her interest in standing for election earlier this year. Poland's sports minister Witold Banka is also in the running.

After a closed-doors executive committee meeting Wednesday, a session on Thursday which is open to media will focus on new rules of governance at WADA.

Calls have already been made for the future president to be completely independent of the IOC and influence from nation states during his mandate.

Tygart added: “So long as there is an IOC former executive board member or an IOC member in charge at WADA, then no we don't have any confidence that good decisions are gonna be made.”