Russia at a crossroads over doping scandal: WADA's Niggli

AFP, Tuesday 30 Oct 2018

Critics of the World Anti-Doping Agency's decision to reinstate Russia should focus on whether they will deliver on the final steps that will lead to full rehabilitation, says the organisation's director general Olivier Niggli.

WADA has been assailed from all sides -- administrators, national doping agencies, athletes and Niggli's predecessor David Howman -- since its decision to lift the ban on Russia's anti-doping agency (RUSADA) in September.

RUSADA was initially suspended by WADA in 2016 after an independent report by Professor Richard McLaren found that more than 1,000 athletes across more than 30 sports were aided by state‑sponsored doping.

The Russians now have until December 31 -- a deadline imposed by WADA -- to grant an independent panel access to a laboratory in Moscow and to the data they hold there.

Niggli staunchly defended the move, which paves the way for Russian athletes to return to the international sporting fold, and warned the country was not out of the woods yet.

"As regards RUSADA, the pressure now should be on Russia to deliver on what it has promised," Niggli told AFP. "It is at a crossroads and has the chance to safeguard the future of Russian sport.

"Will Russia deliver? We certainly hope so because that is what is best for clean sport but WADA again stands ready to respond if it doesn't."

The Swiss lawyer, who has been in his post since July 2016, says he believes the Russians will honour their promise after two years of stagnation and obfuscation on their part.

"There is no reason to believe they will not do it," he said. "It was a big step forward for before they had refused to provide access to the laboratory because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

"I want to believe they will deliver on it now."

- 'Undermines WADA' -

Niggli said that speed is crucial.

"It is a two-step process," he said. "Firstly, an independent panel chosen by Russia and WADA must go and get the data and then, step two, analyse the data and decide if there are samples still in the lab that need to be re-analysed.

"Then we would request access to those samples specifically."

Niggli is indignant at the criticism being levelled at him and WADA over the decision to lift the ban, claiming some of the critics are sore losers.

"It was a very democratic process following an independent compliance commission, chaired by a British barrister, made its recommendations then we had a debate and a vote at the executive committee," he said.

"They (the critics) argue about good governance and democratic process when they don't get the decision they wanted, a process they fully supported before.

"I think it is very unfair."

Many of the critics have demanded WADA undergo serious reform, especially in the make-up of the 12-member executive committee.

They say with six votes it is too heavily laden with International Olympic Committee members (six of the 12 members), who have been generally more enthusiastic about reinstating Russia.

However, Niggli insists reforms have already been put in place with more to come at their meeting in Baku in November.

"The Russia experience has brought reforms within WADA including more independence, investigative powers and standards of compliance," he said.

"There have also been changes within RUSADA with them having more independence and much better practice. These have been overshadowed by the debates over the vote."

Niggli said external critics of WADA have no idea of the intricacies of dealing with the matter.

"Those who have been criticising have done nothing for this crisis and we have borne all the burden," he said.

Niggli, who says the Russia scandal has used up a lot of WADA's "finite resources", diverting it away from other anti-doping business, said the criticism serves one purpose and it is not constructive.

"It undermines WADA, the whole system and trust in anti-doping and for what?" he said.

"We've given Russia three months to grant access so those criticising should give them time to take that step."

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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