LONDON – With the Russian doping scandal still causing bitter discord across the international sports world, Olympic leaders meet Saturday to consider ways of revamping a global drug-testing system battered by political disputes and a loss of public confidence.
The role of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), proposals for an independent testing body and the continuing investigation into state-backed Russian doping are expected to be discussed at the “Olympic Summit” in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The finger-pointing and blame game against WADA have ramped up recently, with several International Olympic Committee (IOC) members publicly blasting the organization for its handling of the Russian doping crisis.
“There seems to be a lot of people who refuse to accept that the base problem was institutional Russian cheating,” WADA President Craig Reedie told news agencies. “WADA cannot and will not be held responsible for Russian cheating.”
The International Olympic Committee said officials will debate ideas for “a more robust, more efficient and more independent worldwide anti-doping system,” including further talks on making the entire system “independent from sports organizations.”
“We will make recommendations for WADA to improve in a very constructive way,” IOC President Thomas Bach said. “We will ask WADA to take the organizational measures to perform these tests in a more efficient and more robust way.”
The closed-door meeting, to be held at a luxury Lausanne hotel, will be attended by about 20 officials, including IOC vice presidents, heads of major international sports federations, and presidents of the U.S., Russian and Chinese national Olympic committees.
It’s uncertain whether the deliberations will produce concrete decisions or simply a set of broad principles ahead of an extraordinary world conference on doping next year.
“We need to really properly understand who is responsible for what,” International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Sebastian Coe told press on Friday. “We need to settle on arrangements that satisfy the clean athletes. I’m not sure it’s any more complicated than that.”
The delegate with perhaps the most at stake is Reedie, whose agency has been harshly criticized by IOC members. The fallout from WADA’s recommendation to ban Russia’s entire team from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro— rejected by the IOC — continues to roil the waters and will hang over Saturday’s discussions.
A report by WADA investigator Richard McLaren detailed state-supported doping and cover-ups across dozens of winter and summer Olympic sports in Russia. It also backed allegations by Moscow’s former lab director that doping samples of Russian athletes were manipulated during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
The IOC turned down WADA’s call to impose an outright ban on Russia from the Rio Games. The IOC deferred to individual international sports federations, and about 270 Russian athletes wound up competing in Rio. Bach said the decision was made in the name of “justice” to prevent clean athletes from being punished for the violations of others.
The Institute of National Anti-Doping Organizations said Thursday the IOC “lost the anti-doping battle” before the Rio Games, declaring: “The IOC failed the clean athletes of the world.”
McLaren is scheduled to release his final report by the end of the month, focusing on the doping manipulation in Sochi. Those findings could lead to disqualifications, stripping of medals and calls for Russia to be banned from 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang.
IOC members have accused WADA of failing to act soon enough on Russian doping and criticized the agency for releasing the McLaren report so close to the Rio Games.
“We made a recommendation when we got the [McLaren] report,” Reedie said in a telephone interview this week. “The IOC chose a different decision on eligibility. We’ve moved on. We need to move on together with calmness and cool heads.”
In the past few weeks, several IOC members — notably Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., Sergei Bubka and Gerardo Werthein — have publicly castigated WADA.
“They are responsible for what goes on inside international laboratories but their labs in Sochi and Moscow were like Sodom and Gomorrah,” Samaranch told a Spanish newspaper.
Some have suggested that WADA be restructured or replaced. But Reedie and others believe the agency should be strengthened with greater funding and more powers to investigate, monitor compliance and apply sanctions.
IOC executive board member Gian Franco Kasper believes WADA should stick to technical issues and stay out of politics.
“The summit is not to punish WADA,” he said. “For the anti-doping, WADA is an excellent organization.”
Bach has proposed the creation of an independent body — under WADA’s umbrella — to carry out global drug-testing, making the system more independent by taking it out of the hands of sports federations. He said the body should be operational before the Pyeongchang Games.
Reedie said WADA experts have done all the “technical work” on the proposal, which will be discussed at the agency’s executive committee meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. WADA could set up a “subsidiary company” to run the new body, which would cost “tens of millions of dollars,” Reedie said.
It’s unclear whether the proposed body would take over anti-doping for all Olympic sports. Coe said he plans to brief the summit on the IAAF’s plan to launch its own “integrity unit” in early April that will act as an independent anti-doping body handling results management and sanctioning for track and field.
“We want to share our insights on this,” Coe said. “We have to be clear in defining independence. We have to make sure there isn’t going to be any watering down of our approach.”