In 2015, the World Anti-Doping Agency suspended Russia’s national anti-doping agency in the face of overwhelming evidence that the government was running a sophisticated doping operation for its top athletes. As of today—despite Russia’s failure to meet the basic conditions of its suspension, and outrage from athletes and WADA’s own vice president—that ban is over.
A WADA panel initially planned to recommend against Russia’s reinstatement because its government refused to acknowledge its involvement in the doping conspiracy, or to allow investigators to access the data and lab samples it maintains. But instead, WADA backed down, allowing Russia to essentially strike a plea deal for a lesser offense. “In the spirit of compromise, we wish to make a proposal,” wrote WADA president Craig Reedie and director general Olivier Niggli in a letter obtained by the BBC. Instead of formally accepting the independent investigators’ findings about government involvement in athlete doping, Russia was allowed to continue to dispute that evidence and instead accept a lesser finding from a non-independent, International Olympic Committee-sponsored group. Russia “sufficiently acknowledged” its failures, the WADA committee found. If you say so!
At least one member of WADA’s compliance review committee resigned immediately after the decision, and its own vice president, Linda Helleland, said WADA had “failed the clean athletes of the world.” The lawyer for the original Russian whistleblower, meanwhile, called for the U.S. government to withdraw its funding from WADA, in what The Guardian called the world agency’s “biggest crisis.”
The decision all but guarantees that Russia will be cleared to compete in future Olympic events. Of course, they were never really banned from competing in the first place—168 of them were at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, they just had to suffer the grave injustice of marching under a different-colored flag. Now they’ll have their official Russian uniforms back, though it’s not at all clear whether they’ll still be doping or not. As ever, the real lesson here is that WADA is corrupt, useless, or both.