Other Opinion: An insult to sports worldwide


Russia's sports program now faces a crisis. The executive committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency, known as WADA, is to meet next Monday in Paris to decide whether Russia should be excluded from all international sporting events, including next year's Tokyo Olympics, for four years. The sanction is harsh, but the offense is odious: Russia has been caught anew manipulating records, smearing a whistleblower and misleading the rest of the world. The executive committee should punish Russia but spare individual athletes who are clean, permitting them to compete as individuals without flag or anthem.

The sordid tale begins at the Sochi Winter Olympics of 2014. Russian sport officials, with help from the FSB, the Federal Security Service, ran a sophisticated operation in which athletes were given performance-enhancing drugs that were concealed by clandestinely replacing tainted urine samples with clean urine. In 2016, Grigory Rodchenkov, head of a Moscow laboratory, revealed the covert program involving dozens of athletes, calling into question the integrity of the competition. Russia was suspended from international sport but reinstated in 2018 on a promise that it would provide WADA with a database from the Moscow laboratory. The Moscow data was considered critical because it would allow an accounting of who among Russian athletes were given the drugs and clear those who were clean of any suspicion. The database, WADA said, would "enable the anti-doping community finally to resolve and draw a line under the allegations of a systematic conspiracy to dope Russian athletes."

But when the database was turned over to WADA on Jan. 10, it contained a whole new set of deceptions that was discovered when investigators compared it with a copy the agency had obtained from Rodchenkov in 2017. Adverse findings were deleted, others backdated and efforts made to cover up the data manipulations, as well. The New York Times reported that "15,325 files and folders containing the 'most relevant antidoping data' had been deleted."

Even more egregious, in the database turned over to WADA, the Russians created fake messages that attempted to smear Rodchenkov by suggesting that he and two others had falsified entries as part of a scheme to extort money from athletes. At the same time, significant original messages were deleted that would provide evidence of the coverup of the doping of Russian athletes in 2014 and 2015. WADA's Compliance Review Committee called the manipulations "an extremely serious case of non-compliance" with its demand for the database and recommended the four-year ban.

The world should not penalize hard-training Russian athletes who are clean and not part of the mess created by their government. But the four-year ban on Russia is not too strong a punishment under the circumstances. As the International Olympic Committee put it, the Russian manipulation of the database is "an attack on the credibility of sport itself and is an insult to the sporting movement worldwide."

What To Read Next
Get Local