PtG Article 29.11.2017

Better sanction mechanisms needed in the anti-doping system

In a panel on the Russian doping crisis during Play the Game 2017, experts discussed WADA’s role in the anti-doping fight, how to finance the anti-doping work and the best way to sanction offenders.

Russia must remain in exile from the Olympics until the country’s government acknowledges the institutionalised programme of doping uncovered in the McLaren Report. Next week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will reveal the punishment to be inflicted on Russia and the country’s refusal to acknowledge its guilt meant a ban was essential according to most panellists on a provocatively titled session titled ‘Which Future for anti-doping – if any?’.

The first panellist to the podium was the report’s author, Professor Richard H. McLaren, who said: “When you put the parts together of the FSB, the state police, you have to say there is an institutionalised system that has been operating for some time.”

The IOC has now handed down sanctions on 19 Russian athletes due to the McLaren Report, but the Russians are still “failing to acknowledge the findings and shifting the blame”, said McLaren, who added: “The more denials there are, the more you start to build a case for sanctions.”

Reflecting on his report, he said that there were still flaws in the system, adding: “Driven by this 'win-at-all-costs' mentality, we have medals at any cost. We have to change that.”

Changes advocated by McLaren included a better mechanism for sanctions, the rigorous application and enforcement of the duties of in-field officials, international standards for the treatment of whistleblowers and a shift to prevention rather than avoidance.

How to sanction?

While convinced that Russia had to be sanctioned, McLaren questioned how this was done, asking: “How do you effectively sanction a country? Fines, bans, not raising the flag; I’m not sure any of these sanctions are the correct ones. Sanctions are supposed to deter and punish.”

Chiel Warners, a member of the athletes’ committee at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), said: “A blanket ban is short-sighted as it will include athletes who are innocent,” but Joseph de Pencier, the German chief executive officer at iNADO, said: “No matter how much technical progress RUSADA [the Russian anti-doping agency] makes, unless Russia apologies and shows contrition they cannot be allowed back in.”

German TV producer Hajo Seppelt said there was no other option but to ban the Russians.

“If you don’t ban the Russians, it means you can do what you want,” he said.

Seppelt, who has a long track record with German station ARD of covering doping stories, was also critical of WADA for not moving fast enough against the Russians.

“There are good people in WADA but there are also people sometimes on the top who have a conflict of interest,” said Seppelt, referring to Craig Reedie, who held a double position as WADA president and as vice president of the IOC until 2016. “People cannot wear two hats,” he said.

Money matters

WADA’s director of international federations and Europe, Benjamin Cohen, did not respond directly, but argued that WADA’s $30 million budget, which supported 100 staff in four offices around the world, was not enough.

WADA had been asked to produce a four-year plan by the public bodies, which supported the agency. In response, WADA asked for an 8% rise in 2018, then rises of 15% in each of 2019 and 2020 then a 5% rise in 2021. However, only the 8% rise in 2018 was approved.

“We should all be a lot more aggressive about finding funding,” said Cohen.

In response, Seppelt suggested that 1-2% of money from sports’ sponsorship deals should go towards fighting doping and corruption.

Developing this theme, Michele Verroken, director of Sporting Integrity, suggested that money could also come from betting.

“What’s wrong with 1-2% to be taken from the sports broadcasters and betting that the government can apply,” she asked.

In a thought-provoking final question from the floor from German journalist Jens Weinreich, the panel were asked what if the punishment for the Russians was a $100 million fine, which could be used to fight doping and corruption.

In response, Joseph de Pencier said: “It would be grossly inappropriate that you can just open your wallet to solve a problem.”

For Russia, a way back to the Olympic movement looks unlikely and any fudge by the IOC next week could provoke an international uproar.

In more than 40 sessions, over 200 speakers will present their thoughts and opinions on a wide range of the most topical questions in world sport during the tenth Play the Game conference, taking place in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, 26-30 November 2017.Read more about Play the Game 2017