MOSCOW – In Russia’s long-running feud with global anti-doping bosses, its own drug testers are caught in the crossfire.
When the Russian anti-doping agency, known as RUSADA, was reinstated by the World Anti-Doping Agency in September, it caused an outcry from international campaigners who saw the move as forgiveness for Russia, whose political leaders have not directly admitted that widespread doping in the country was state-sponsored.
RUSADA, however, says it’s quietly transforming Russian sport with a targeted testing program focused on the likeliest dopers and an investigations unit boasting Interpol expertise.
WADA has few if any criticisms of RUSADA’s work since the suspension was lifted but it risks being suspended again if Russian authorities don’t provide lab data which could shed light on past offenses and cover-ups that WADA believes were directed by government officials. RUSADA’s director-general Yuri Ganus has urged Russian authorities to cooperate.
“We shouldn’t be frightened about what we find,” Ganus told The Associated Press on Wednesday as WADA and Russian authorities tried to thrash out a deal.
“The most important thing is how we react to it, and we need to react with the highest level of principle and consistency. It’s not about proving to someone, but about showing our society and athletes, especially those just starting out, that doping is not acceptable.”
Ganus has a picture on his office wall of an icebreaker ship. He says it represents RUSADA, cutting through a system where doping was tolerated. The old RUSADA, until it was suspended in 2015, was often seen as being part of such a system and WADA investigations alleged its staff played a role in doping cover-ups. Almost all of the staff from those days are gone.
Ganus is proud of his fledgling investigations unit, recently strengthened by hiring a former Interpol officer and a cybersecurity expert. There’s also a strategy of targeting promising athletes at regional meets where they may have thought they could dope in safety.
At one track meet in Siberia, “no one expected us there and there was a wild reaction when they all ran away,” Ganus said. “Everyone should understand that RUSADA can turn up at any competition. That’s the message we’re sending.”
RUSADA’s future is far from certain, not least because it could be suspended again if Russian authorities don’t provide the data WADA wants by Dec. 31. That decision is out of RUSADA’s hands, and its officials weren’t invited to talks on the subject Wednesday.
“I read in the press that WADA showed weakness or laxity toward Russia. It’s the other way round,” Ganus said. “I’ve heard directly from the WADA president Craig Reedie the position that if the criteria aren’t met then RUSADA will be suspended and there will be sanctions immediately. Those are pretty tough conditions.”