Dark Secrets of the World Anti-Doping Agency

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) sees mischief, deception and dishonesty everywhere. 

Except in its own organisation, which is responsible for administering justice to those malfeasants who seek to gain an unfair advantage in sport.

So it is satisfying to discover its own darkly kept secrets are now being exhibited in the most flamboyant way – by a cyber-espionage group known as the Fancy Bear.

Over the past several days, uber-tecchies have gained unauthorized access to data in WADA’s computer system and discovered that some of the world’s leading sports stars have been given permission to use drugs that appear on the dreaded “banned list.”

This is the extensive inventory of chemicals and procedures that WADA decrees illegal and which are likely, if used, to get athletes suspended or even disqualified completely from competition.

After commissioning research into Russia’s practices and concluding the country was culpable of “state sponsored doping,” WADA recommended action to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As we know, many Russian competitors were forcibly excluded from the recent Olympic Games in Brazil.

The decision to sidestep a complete ban and exclude selectively was widely criticised. The International Paralympic Committee, on the other hand, was praised for expelling all disabled Russian athletes from the Paralympic Games that followed the Olympics in Rio.

The hackers’ revelation that many athletes, including Mo Farah and Rafa Nadal, have legally been allowed to take drugs that would ordinarily get athletes thrown out makes WADA look hypocritical. Not because it has deceived the public: it could argue that no one ever asked it to disclose this information. But because it has operated a little-known process called Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs).

This permits athletes with medical conditions to use, for example, saline drips, painkillers, anti-inflammatories or other substances that appear on the banned list.

The moral rightness or wrongness of this is open to question: if an anti-inflammatory treatment enables an injured athlete to compete, is it performance enhancing? But that isn’t the reason for WADA’s embarrassment.

The urgent question is: why did it need hackers to tell us this? Why didn’t WADA volunteer this information? Surely it was relevant at the height of the Russian scandal.

Fingers are being pointed at Russia: the immediate, almost automatic response has been that this must be some sort of revenge for punishing Russia so severely at the Olympics and particularly the Paralympics.

But there is no evidence. Hackers rarely leave fingerprints and, even if by some means WADA, or the FBI, found out where the data was published, it is practically impossible to trace the source of the original hack, which is, in all probability, in a different country to the place of publication. Russia is just a convenient scapegoat.

Actually, I can’t help but think Russia has been doubly scapegoated. I’ve no doubt that the nation’s athletes have used dope. Athletes from every country in the world do likewise. The so-called state sponsored doping programme that came to light in a report authored by Professor Richard McLaren seemed a bit more of a stretch.

How do you demonstrate such a programme?

Much of the evidence was based on the testimony of whistleblower, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory. Apart from that, McLaren has produced little to corroborate the claims. We await the evidence.

In the meantime, it will please many (including myself) to see the ever-pious WADA held to account. Even if it is technically in order, its apparent lack of transparency in what seems to, I imagine, all rational people a colossally important series of facts makes it morally vulnerable.


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