Rio Olympics 2016: Russian rewards 'make me sick' - former anti-doping chief

Russian doping whistleblower Yuliya Stepanova. Photo / AP
Russian doping whistleblower Yuliya Stepanova. Photo / AP

Former World Anti-Doping Agency boss David Howman has lambasted the International Olympic Committee's handling of Russia's systemic doping programme in the lead-up to the 2016 Games.

The New Zealander's 13-year tenure as Wada's director-general ended in June. He watched on as the IOC shied away from issuing a blanket Russian ban in Rio.

Howman told Newstalk ZB's Tony Veitch that the IOC, led by German Thomas Bach, had abdicated responsibility.

"Here was an opportunity for a head of the world of sport to stand up for principles like fair play and supporting clean athletes," Howman said. "We [Wada] had done our work, made the report [on Russia's corruption] available and apparently it wasn't good enough, despite being based on clear evidence.

"What happens under the IOC bubble is that they do not have the strong leadership you would expect. Instead of leading, they require consensus. To divert the decision-making [on Russian participation] to each individual international federation was a total waste of time. Why would you have an IOC if the IFs run the Olympic Games?"

Howman said Bach was among those to acclaim the latest set of Wada doping rules which came in on January 1, 2015. Those enabled the organisation to investigate Russia more thoroughly and unearthed whistleblowers in former 800m runner Yuliya Stepanova and her husband Vitali Stepanov, a former anti-doping official.

Their accounts were broadcast in a German television documentary last year. Russian anti-doping agency boss Nikita Kamaev described the claims as "wanton speculation" and sports minister Vitaly Mutko called it a ploy to "belittle Russian sport".

The recent Wada report issued by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren suggested otherwise. He advised a full sanction, accusing Russia's sports ministry of overseeing a doping conspiracy.

Bach defended the IOC's position before the Games and said a total ban on Russia "would not be justifiable" on either moral or legal grounds.

"Every human being is entitled to certain rights of natural justice."

Bach said the IOC had set a "very high bar" by imposing strict conditions on the entry of Russians, including a ban on any athletes with prior doping sanctions. He has since rejected accusations the IOC did nothing to support Stepanova, who was invited as a guest to Rio but prohibited from competing.

"We are not responsible for dangers to which Ms Stepanova may be exposed."

That followed Stepanova describing efforts to hack her email account and discover her secret American location as part of the whereabouts anti-doping programme. She has been branded a traitor by many Russians.

"If something happens to us then you should know that it is not an accident," Stepanova said in a conference call this month.

Howman said Wada's IT system was also hacked by Russians at one point.

"This is not something that is fun. It is life-and-death stuff."

He said responsibility for the world's athletes rests with those running sport, and the IOC had not met their obligations.

"They [Stepanov and Stepanova] did things beyond expectations and put their lives at risk. We were in no position to do an investigation until January 2015. All we could do was pass info to Russia [which Wada opted not to do].

"Somebody has since seen their plight and looked after them financially. But no one's in a position to guarantee their safety. It's the same for Grigori Rodchenkov [whistleblower to the New York Times in May] whose assets have now been seized."

Rodchenkov also resides in the United States. He's accused by Russian authorities of abusing his power while serving as head of Moscow's anti-doping laboratory.

Howman was appalled Russia, according to state news agency TASS, rewarded each Rio medallist with a BMW sports utility vehicle and at least 1.7 million roubles (NZ$36,000). Russia won 56 medals. The medallists are eligible for other monetary rewards from regional administrations, including housing subsidies.

"It made me sick," Howman said. "It's probably because they did what they were told in the lead-up to the Games. Who knows whether they were clean?

"If New Zealand was found to be running a government-sponsored doping programme, we would have been turfed out. Russia has a lot of political clout."

Howman said the future of the anti-doping movement is at a crossroads.

"Decisions taken in the coming weeks are crucial. The IOC wants Wada to do testing and be a service organisation, not a [independent] monitor.

"Governments [who invest in Wada alongside the IOC] need to stand up and say, 'We don't want that, we want Wada to be the regulatory body which looks at the way sport conducts its programmes'.

"Otherwise [no one will come forward and] we risk going back to the old omerta system which we thought we'd beaten post-Lance Armstrong. The rules are now broken."

- NZ Herald

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