Originally Published: December 14, 2016 5:55 a.m.
If you thought McLaren I was a blockbuster, you haven’t read McLaren II. Richard McLaren is the Canadian attorney who earlier this year was commissioned by WADA – the World Anti- Doping Agency – to investigate allegations that Russia engaged in a doping scandal designed to thwart testing of its athletes. Just weeks prior to the Rio Olympics McLaren issued a report which confirmed whistleblower claims that the doping program initiated by the Russian government was widespread, pervasive and systemic.
As a result of that report, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned 100 Russian athletes from Olympic competition. However, the majority of the country’s delegation was allowed to participate in the Games.
After the Olympic Games, McLaren was asked to conduct a follow up investigation. His second report provided extensive, detailed evidence of the depths to which the Russians went to sabotage “clean” competition. According to McLaren II, at least 1,000 athletes from 30 different sports were involved in a conspiracy that dates back to at least 2011. Some of the findings were appalling; others would be comical in another context. Examples include male DNA found in the samples of female athletes; positive samples diluted with coffee grounds and salt; hundreds of samples tampered with; and a hole in the wall of a testing lab through which dirty samples were exchanged for clean ones. All of which happened under the supposedly watchful eyes of the IOC and its independent testing agency, WADA.
In reality, there isn’t anything independent about WADA. The interrelationship between the two organizations can be seen in the overlap of high-level officials. The drug-testing watchdog operates in lockstep with the IOC and other international sport federations. Given that WADA relies on those organizations for its funding, it has little motivation to disclose its own incompetence much less the will to embarrass its “partners” and financial lifeline. Hence, even though most of the world was aware of the Russian doping effort for years, it was only after overwhelming pressure from the press that sports agencies authorized an investigation.
After McLaren I was issued, neither WADA nor the IOC was willing to accept responsibility. Finding ways to strengthen the drug testing procedures in an effort to prevent future violations took a back seat to throwing each other under the bus. McLaren admitted as much during a press conference held in conjunction with the release of his second report. “In the past few months, we’ve seen infighting,” he said. “I find it difficult to understand why we’re not on the same team. We should all be working together to end doping in sports.” Good luck with that, as long as an incestuous relationship between a sport federation and its drug testing arm exists.
Incredibly, countries are allowed to operate their own anti-doping agencies and drug testing labs, a system that provides opportunity to manipulate the system. Only in a cartoon would we find it acceptable for a fox to guard a henhouse. That’s essentially how the Russians were able to game the system, made easier by the sheer incompetence of WADA.
What to do? The solution isn’t as difficult as it may seem. First, interested parties need to acknowledge that the current anti-doping system is irreparably broken. Secondly, and perhaps even more difficult than step one, sport federations must give up some of their power. They must allow an outside organization – completely independent – to conduct the anti-doping program, from start to finish. Power is the motivation behind the desire to run an organization and once acquired, is difficult to relinquish voluntarily.
True leadership is doing the right thing. The only way to restore integrity to athletic competition is to assign drug testing to an independent agency, one that isn’t in bed with sport governing bodies or member nations. That agency should be authorized to conduct year ‘round, unannounced, in and out-of-competition testing from collection to testing. Furthermore, sanctioning cheaters should be the responsibility of an independent agency, not the province of sports federations or individual countries.
McLaren’s reports confirm that for too long athletes have been playing on an uneven field. If we want to level the playing field, maintain the health of athletes and prevent countries from using sports as a propaganda tool, it’s time for real leaders to make substantive changes.
Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a Professor in and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.