Monday, June 6, 2016

USADA's Travis Tygart in the NYT and WADA's Response

Last month the head of the US Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart, had a remarkable op-ed in the New York Times. I say remarkable for several reasons.

First, Tygart takes an unambiguous and principled stand on Russia's eligibility to participate in Rio 2016:
[T]he position of my organization, the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which is a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code, has not wavered: To protect clean athletes, the Russian track and field federation must not be allowed to participate in the Rio Olympics.
Second, Tygart calls for an expanded investigation of Russian sport, beyond the narrow mandate given to the McLaren commission:
But along with many athletes and other advocates of clean sport, USADA has been calling for a comprehensive investigation of all Russian sport, beyond just track and field, since the November revelations.
Finally, and most significantly, Tygart expresses some his strongest criticism for WADA itself:
Finally, WADA’s foot-dragging has raised serious questions about the agency’s willingness to do its job. Since it was founded in 2000, the United States Anti-Doping Agency has advocated separation between those who promote sport and those who police it. To do otherwise is to have the fox guarding the henhouse.

WADA’s governing rules allow its board members also to serve in an executive capacity for sports organizations. This inevitably gives rise to conflicts of interest.
WADA's incoming Director General, Olivier Niggli responded to Tygart's accusations this week:
Ever since the revelations late last year WADA has been stung by criticism that it dragged its feet for years before telling Stepanov to take his evidence to reporters.

Olivier Niggli, who will take over as WADA director general later this month, forcefully hit back at that criticism on Friday explaining the top priority was to protect the Stepanovs, who were in fear for their lives and that the anti-doping agency was being prudent rather than slow. . .

"This has been a process. We had the first meeting with Mr. Stepanov in Vancouver in 2010 and it was followed by two emails that year."

Niggli said that initial contact was followed by more discussion and another meeting in 2011 and the same in 2012 but it wasn't until 2013 when Yulia was caught for doping that the Stepanovs decided to get serious about delivering WADA the information it was asking for.

"It was really only in 2013 when he and his wife started talking to each other about what was going on that they were saying we will try to get more evidence and do the right thing," said Niggli.

"In 2013 they said, ok now we are ready to gather more evidence because we all agreed that is what was needed."
But Niggli's comments may not have made things better for WADA:
However, even when the Stepanovs had brought enough credible evidence to WADA's attention the agency found its hands tied with no provision in the Code at that time allowing it to launch an investigation.

Fearing for the Stepanovs safety, WADA was reluctant to even bring the information to the attention of its own board with Russian members sitting at the table.

"We could not get more evidence on our own and passing it onto the Russians was not an option," said Niggli. "We were prudent, we were very careful about moving forward at a pace, that now might seem too slow.

"Our first preoccupation was that this young man trying to do the right thing would not be harmed. We would not do anything until we would be sure he was in a place that would be safe."
Go ahead. Read that bolded part again.

WADA was afraid to bring the allegations forward to its own board out of concern for the safety of the whistle blowers. That admission is a sure sign that sport in general and WADA in particular has far deeper problems than anti-doping.


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