MONTREAL (AP) — Never known for haste, the World Anti-Doping Agency delivered two pieces of news Thursday that could strengthen its ability to expedite the end of the Russian doping scandal.
In one move, the WADA foundation board pressed forward with a proposal to fast-track rules changes that would give it power to suspend noncompliant Olympic committees. That could prevent a repeat of last year, when the International Olympic Committee disregarded WADA’s recommendation to ban Russia from the Rio Games.
And in the day’s big surprise, a WADA official said pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva would be out as the chair of Russia’s anti-doping agency (RUSADA) by the end of the month.
“It’s good to hear there will be change there,” said Joseph de Pencier, the CEO of the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organizations. “Now, there’s much more to come. We don’t know who will be the new leader. There’s an awful lot that’s still in process.”
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Isinbayeva’s appointment as the RUSADA chair has been widely panned by WADA, track’s international federation (IAAF) and others. WADA’s Dick Pound labeled it a “provocation,” mainly because Isinbayeva has been a steadfast critic of WADA’s investigations into her country, calling them an anti-Russian plot.
WADA director general Olivier Niggli said Isinbayeva could remain on the RUSADA board. He said the move, which will place a board member who is independent of Russia’s Olympic committee at the head of the agency, is important because “it’s not just for one person or one situation. It’s for putting in place the safeguards we’ll need for the future.”
Even with that expected move, there’s plenty of work to do in Russia, which remains under the microscope in the wake of a report that detailed wide-scale doping corruption in the country, including switching of drug-tainted urine samples with clean ones at the Sochi Games. Investigator Richard McLaren found more than 1,000 athletes overall may have been involved or benefited from manipulations to conceal positive doping tests.
WADA’s Rob Koehler revealed meager 2016 testing numbers: 2,731 tests issued — nearly 10,000 fewer than in the previous two years.
The numbers are low in part because there aren’t enough independent testers to traverse the country and do the work. But Russia will train more than four dozen of its own doping-control officers (who will be under supervision of international experts) and also is working with mayors of so-called “closed” cities where many athletes train but that limit access to drug testers.
“The people in Russia are very aware of the challenges they face,” said WADA chairman Craig Reedie.
Russia’s status at the upcoming Winter Olympics was on everyone’s mind.
Heading into last year’s Summer Games, WADA called for a blanket suspension of the entire Russian team, but the IOC disregarded that advice and put the decision in the hands of individual sports. All but one member of the track team was banned, but 271 Russians still competed.
Under the proposed rules changes, the IOC, along with all WADA signatories, would have to adhere to a new system of WADA-imposed sanctions, subject to appeals.
The guidelines call for athletes from a non-compliant country to be ineligible if that country’s Olympic committee or anti-doping agency make deliberate attempts to circumvent anti-doping rules.
If enacted at the next board meeting, in November, the rules would go on the books during the Olympics next February, though they would come into play too late for the Pyeongchang Games.
“It can get done. It’s not rocket science,” Pound said.
WADA also took the next step toward implementing an independent testing authority, which would allow sports federations to contract out their testing duties. It was the IAAF’s control of its own testing operation that furthered the Russian track scandal .
The board also heard from a committee about governance changes that would attempt to limit the influence of sports and government in its dealings. WADA has been criticized for having Reedie, an IOC member, as the head of its board.
Reedie was recently re-elected to a second three-year term as WADA chairman.
“I have said quite openly to the IOC and in this room that if people want to change … how you elect the leadership of this organization, I will not stand in their way,” Reedie said. “In the meantime, there is an awful lot to do, and I think it’s been achieved pretty well.”