The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) needs to realize that the never-ending saga of its investigation into allegations of state-sponsored doping by Russian athletes is good for neither Russia nor itself. WADA pounced on the Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA in 2016 following a one man’s whistle-blowing from the comfort of his new home in the USA.

Gregory Rodchenkov, a former Russian anti-doping director, claimed that he was part of a scheme behind doping by Russian athletes during the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. As a result WADA banned Russian athletes en masse on the basis that their state had systematically worked to illegally enhance their performance. RUSADA has steadfastly denied the allegations, accusing WADA of putting Geopolitics before sport. The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland subsequently ruled that WADA was in the wrong in the case of at least 28 Russian athletes who had successfully taken their banning orders to the highest court for sport.

The 28 athletes had been banned for life from competing by the International Olympic Committee. An appeal against the decision to set aside the ban was later dismissed by an appeals court in Switzerland. RUSADA is adamant that WADA’s collective punishment of Russian athletes is cruel and unjustified. The body maintains that just like all countries, Russia, too faces a constant threat of individual athletes who may fall for the temptation to cheat the system. Such would need to be identified and severely dealt with.

However, to unleash a blanket punishment on all athletes whose sin is that they happen to be Russian nationals is at odds with universal declaration of human rights. There never was at any given time a programme by the Russian authorities to undertake a state-sponsored campaign aimed at enabling athletes to cheat. The Russian Athletics Federation (RUSAF) remains banned from international competitions. The seemingly never-ending saga is viewed by authorities in Moscow as part of a concerted geopolitical onslaught by forces in the US as well as certain NATO countries. The aim, claims Russia, is to tarnish the image of the country using sport as a political weapon.

Last week WADA heard a report from the body’s Compliance Review Committee on alleged violations by Russia’s national anti-doping agency RUSADA. The report focused on analysis of historical data on doping tests which WADA received from Russia in January.  WADA claims that the information had inconsistencies and gave Russia three weeks to explain those inconsistencies or else RUSADA faces re-suspension. RUSADA was re-instated in September 2018 on several strict conditions which included a promise to hand over data as and when required for probing purposes.

If in three weeks WADA is not satisfied with RUSADA’s explanation of the inconsistencies Russia could face a fresh order of suspension from the global body. The reality of such a move could be the prevention of Russian athletes from participating in the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Japan. The Russian authorities have pledged to fully comply with whatever the new demands that WADA sets for the country. They hope that such posture would in return provide proof that the Russian authorities want this saga to finally come to an end for the sake of their suffering athletes who have previously been granted permission to participate in other competitions in conditions they did so as “neutrals”, meaning they represent no country.

Methinks that in the case of Russia WADA keeps on shifting the goal-posts and thus keeping the doping saga alive and damaging to the international standing of Russia. It is not as if RUSADA is uncooperative with WADA’s investigations. It is time to think about the poor athletes. They are sports men and women, not pawns in Geopolitical battles not of their making.