There are growing suggestions to accentuate levels of transparency in the long-running polarizing clashes between the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency RUSADA. These calls have been made in the wake of the four-year ban WADA imposed on RUSADA at the end of 2019. The ban, if it stands, will bar Russian athletes from this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022 and any other major sporting event during that time.
WADA insists that RUSADA, which has been in the cold for the last three years already following the doping saga involving Russian athletes that WADA claims were state-sponsored, agreed that the harsh ban should nonetheless not be made blanket. This means Russian athletes not found guilty of doping will be allowed to participate in the major sporting events of their choice. However, they could take part only as “neutrals” as the WADA ban means no Russian anthem will be allowed to be sung nor the Russian flag allowed to be flown.
Yet in the midst of the divisive saga there appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel. WADA has asked the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to intervene. The idea is that in the wake of a barrage of accusations and counter-accusations between RUSADA and WADA, CAS should make a determination on the length and spirit of the ban, or the overall legality.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a sporting fanatic, personally believes that the ban “is just a method to neutralize strong competitors from Russia”. Putin opined that the ban is a violation of “common sense and international law”.
RUSADA maintains that it has cooperated fully with WADA in its investigation of the alleged transgressions. However, the world anti-doping agency says it has found that RUSADA has tampered with laboratory data in an attempt to conceal wrong-doing on the part of Russian athletics authorities.
It is not yet clear if CAS will agree to host the hearings in public. If this becomes the case it means guaranteed global media coverage as the matter is of utmost public interest. Moscow has levelled accusations of ulterior political motives in the seemingly never-ending saga. The hardest-hit individuals in the matter are, of course, innocent Russian athletes who find that the onus to prove innocence rest with individual athletes at all cost. Many who do not have the heart, strength or means to embark on a crusade to prove their innocence find themselves unable to participate in the sporting code of their choice.
I support those calling for public hearings on the matter. Increased transparency will give credence to the legitimacy of the process. It will whittle down the gap of mistrust between the warring sides. When that is so it can only increase the level of cooperation between investigative teams from both sides. And hopefully, this long-running saga may finally be resolved once and for all. My heart is, as has always been the case, with the innocent athletes whose sin, some may argue, is that they are Russians. These athletes are the “grass” that suffers when “two elephants” fight. It’s time to spare a thought for the innocent Russian athletes. Punish only the guilty ones, be they in Moscow or anywhere in the world.