The Canadian lawyer who investigated the state-backed doping scheme by Russia when it hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics said the World Anti-Doping Agency rushed into accepting a bad deal by reinstating the country’s drug-testing program.
Richard McLaren told The Associated Press he suspected there were “loopholes” in the deal which Russia could exploit to back out of its promises, including the pledge to give access to the Moscow lab sealed by federal investigators.
“They (WADA) have lost any kind of leverage over the ongoing situation with Russia,” McLaren said Friday in an interview at a law conference, one day after WADA’s decision angered many anti-doping officials and athletes. “They have been rushed into a decision which they may regret given the outbursts of the athletes around the world.”
McLaren said WADA also erred by failing to end Russian legal cases in three countries arising from his work. They include former Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko challenging his life ban from the Olympics.
“There’s lawsuits that should have been withdrawn,” said the law professor, who is a witness in Mutko’s appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. “At the very least, why wouldn’t you ask for them to be withdrawn? They left things on the table.”
Asked if he felt let down by WADA, McLaren said: “Somewhat, yes.”
The decision by WADA to reinstate Russia is a key step toward the country’s track and field team being welcomed back to international competitions such as the Olympics.
McLaren was appointed by WADA in 2016 to verify claims by Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov. The former Moscow laboratory director detailed Rodchenkov’s part in corrupting the 2014 Sochi Olympics to help the home team win more medals.
In two investigation reports, McLaren confirmed a state-backed scheme to swap tainted urine samples for clean ones through a hole in the wall at the Sochi lab run by Rodchenkov.
Russia has refused to uphold McLaren’s findings but recognized the report of an International Olympic Committee panel which shifted blame from state leaders.
In a victory Thursday for Russia, WADA agreed to reinstate the Russian drug-testing agency, known as RUSADA, by easing two strict conditions in a roadmap that had seemed non-negotiable: Accept McLaren’s report, and give access to the Moscow lab.
McLaren said he is skeptical about WADA’s compromise of setting Russia a Dec. 31 deadline to provide the lab’s trove of raw data, and a further six months to analyze samples that could prove doping by possibly hundreds of Russian athletes.
He said Russia could potentially use two tactics to block WADA — consent from the Kremlin-run Russian Investigative Committee, and invoking Russia’s criminal procedural code.
“There are two different possible outs there,” McLaren said, referring to a Sept. 13 letter from Russia’s current sports minister to WADA that paved the way to the compromise. “What those are, are just a lot of loopholes by which they can back out of and never actually do what they say could be done.”
The document was key to the eventual reinstatement of RUSADA, but strangely it was on plain paper with no sports ministry letterhead, putting in question whether the written promises are from the author only or the government.
McLaren called it a “private communication,” and questioned; “What happens when Minister (Pavel) Kolobkov is no longer the minister, which might happen any day now?”
If WADA’s demands are not met, the anti-doping agency could restore Russia’s non-compliant status. That could block Olympic sports federations from hosting events in the country.
Smaller governing bodies “are not going to go along with that,” McLaren said, “because Russia offers large sums of money if you locate your international events within Russia. That’s money that is invaluable to them, critically important.”
Though clearly disappointed with how some of his findings have been handled, McLaren pointed to improved investigations at track and field’s governing body, and ongoing doping cases in biathlon and cross-country skiing.
“It’s accomplished a lot,” he said, “and nobody has yet produced any contrary evidence that I am wrong.”
Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press