By Steve Keating
MONTREAL (Reuters) – Russia will again be at the top of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) agenda when the Foundation board meets on Thursday but maybe not for much longer.
For four years WADA has been bombarded by criticism over its handling of the Russian doping scandal but two of the men at the heart of the investigation believe that despite the glacial pace getting to the bottom of the deceit, the process has worked.
Richard McLaren, the Canadian law professor who authored a 2016 report into systematic state sponsored Russia doping, and David Howman, who served as WADA director general from 2003-16, think the doping saga is headed towards a conclusion but warned WADA cannot yet declare mission accomplished.
McLaren pointed to the Mitchell Report into Major League Baseball’s use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs that he contributed to and noted it also looked good on paper but initially proved difficult to implement.
“I think it has worked,” McLaren told Reuters on the sidelines of a recent sport gambling summit.
“All these changes that they (Russia) have made structurally such as moving the lab into a university and doing a number of changes in the way RUSADA the doping agency operates on the ground. But are they really going to be the way they were on paper?
“I remember working for Major League Baseball and baseball had a good programme on paper but it was horrible the way it was administered.
“It wasn’t administered basically for a long time and then they got religion. I think something similar could be going on in Russia, we really don’t know.”
WADA has been under immense pressure to deal with Russia since a 2015 report outlined evidence of state-backed, systematic doping in Russian athletics which was amplified a year later when McLaren’s investigation revealed doping and testing manipulation across a wide range of sports.
The heat was turned up last September when the executive committee, ignoring the outrage of athletes groups, voted to reinstate the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) before it had fulfilled all the requirements laid out in a Road Map to Compliance.
Having forced Russian authorities to surrender data and samples from the tainted Moscow laboratory, WADA is now in the process of analysing the material and connecting the dots that could lead to hundreds more sanctions.
“They (Russia) are trying to make that shift but have they accomplished it, nobody knows I don’t think,” McLaren said.
“They are trying, I certainly give them that, whether that has resulted in anything in real substantive change we don’t know.
“There ought to be an update what’s going on within Russia to see if they really are changing because what’s required might be a generational shift on how they think and that doesn’t change because you change the rules on a piece of paper.”
Although most of the criticism has landed on WADA’s doorstep, Howman says there is plenty to go around.
With the exception of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which continues to ban Russian athletes, few others demonstrated the backbone or will to stand up to Russia, allowing the country to continue to compete and host international events.
“Russia was banned appropriately,” Howman, who now heads up the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), told Reuters. “I’m not so sure the global sports world joined in that ban as much as it could have.
“My issue in relation to Russia is that it is not over yet and we need to wait before saying anything, until all the athletes who have been potentially doping are sanctioned.
“My guesstimate is that there will hundreds that come out of the material they got.
“We have set an example for others. I would be horrified if athletes went free because nobody prosecuted them.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)