PAP talks Russia ban with World Anti-Doping Agency chief

Andrzej Grygiel/PAP

In an interview with PAP, the president of the World Anti-doping Agency, Witold Banka, discusses the successful prosecuton of Russia for institutionalised doping, the penalty imposed, and the future of the agency's mission.

Polish Press Agency: The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne upheld Russia's exclusion from major sporting events. The participation of athletes from this country will only be possible under a neutral flag. What do you think is most important in this ruling?

Witold Banka: From the point of view of the organization I am heading, the most important thing is that the Tribunal has clearly strengthened the World Anti-Doping Agency. CAS has confirmed WADA's ability to impose consequences not only on individual athletes or national anti-doping organizations, but on entire countries and their officials if they violate the anti-doping regulations. This is something remarkable. WADA comes out of this dispute very strong. Before and during the hearing, the Russians took the position that WADA had no right to impose consequences on the states and their representatives, but the Tribunal agreed with us one hundred percent.

PAP: However, you are not fully satisfied with this ruling, are you?

W.B.: We are not satisfied with some of the consequences imposed (CAS has shortened the period of the exclusion from four to two years – PAP). We asked for more and we understand and share the feelings of people who are disappointed that the consequences are not as proposed by WADA. However, it must be remembered that in all these proceedings we acted as a prosecutor, not a judge. The final decision rested with the Tribunal, and our task was to present the evidence we had as best as possible. I am proud of the work carried out by our investigators, analysts and lawyers, who gathered, assessed and presented the evidence flawlessly.

PAP: Apart from the issue of the length of the consequences, could the verdict have been more severe in any aspect?

W.B. Of course it could be. However, the Court ruled that some of our proposals went too far. Let me give you an example. We requested automatic exclusion from the Olympics for all athletes who were included in the McLaren report or whose data were manipulated in the LIMS database from the Moscow laboratory, even if there was no direct evidence of their use of doping. CAS took the position that although the Russians manipulated the data, these athletes could not be sanctioned without clear evidence. It disappoints us. But that is the Panel’s decision.

PAP: The Americans, headed by the CEO of USADA, Travis Tygart, are very critical of the ruling. In his opinion, the Court's ruling is "catastrophic" and blames WADA and the IOC for it ...

W.B.: I understand the disappointment with the extent of the consequences, because we also expected more. However, I find it very unfair to attack the prosecutor for the judge's decision. This is against any logic. In general, WADA has done a great job at the investigative and evidential level. We could not have done any more in this case.

- Part of the American community demanded a blanket ban to be imposed on Russians for many years, regardless of the evidence. But that would have been indefensible in front of CAS. Despite what Mr. Tygart thinks, you can't throw someone out of sport just because he or she was born in Russia. How would you explain to a young athlete that they have to abandon their dreams of going to the Olympics or the World Cup because their country's government was cheating, and their older colleagues were doping? You cannot punish an entire generation of young athletes.

PAP: Although the CAS ruling ends the last proceedings, the Russian case is definitely not closed ...

W.B.: What we need to focus on now is assisting international federations to ensure they follow through effectively on each of the cases related to almost 300 athletes after we analysed the LIMS data from the Moscow Laboratory. We will also continue to re-analyse samples obtained from the laboratory. On the basis of these and other actions, about 60 athletes from Russia have already been sanctioned, and this is not the end. Work continues, and the number of Russian athletes suspended on this basis is steadily growing. Remember, none of these cases would have been possible without WADA gaining access to the Moscow Laboratory data as a result of reinstating RUSADA as compliant in September 2018. That was the turning point that has allowed us to hold the guilty to account. We also need to do our job for the Olympics so that the sports world can be sure that those Russians competing under the neutral flag are really clean.

PAP: What will the procedure of accepting Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag look like?

W.B.: It is primarily the responsibility of the International Olympic Committee and international federations. CAS has prepared some guidelines in this regard. It will be the responsibility of WADA to ensure those athletes that will be on the long list going to the Games or World Championships are properly tested. We will make every effort to ensure that this system works properly.

PAP: What is also interesting in the CAS decision is that the consequences will not expire automatically after two years. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency must at this time obtain the status of compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code ...

W.B.: Yes, this really got somewhat lost in the media coverage. RUSADA is obliged to work closely with us. The Russians have a lot of work to do to get back into the system, and WADA will closely monitor the process, in accordance with the CAS ruling. The most important issue for us is the operational independence of RUSADA and its compliance with the Code.

PAP: What are the first steps expected by WADA from the Russian side?

W.B.: We will have to prepare a "road map" of the entire process. In addition to the already mentioned independence, it will be crucial for Russia to be willing to provide all the athlete data we expect, and to be firm and consistent with those who violate anti-doping rules.

PAP: The case of the Russian scandal clearly shows that the fight against doping no longer takes place mainly in the laboratory. Investigative activity has gained enormous importance ...

W.B.: I have said many times that investigative activity is a major part of the future of anti-doping. Without it, it would not be possible to bring the Russian case to such an end. What WADA has achieved in proving institutionalized doping in Russia before an independent tribunal is unprecedented. It is one thing to inform the media about a doping scandal, but to win a court battle with this superpower is just a great success, which I am very proud of.

PAP: Does the CAS ruling give the Agency some respite?

W.B.: The specificity of what we do, and the frequent unpredictability of certain situations make it hard to catch a breath. Something is going on almost all the time. During the several months since I took the position of the WADA President, we certainly did not get bored. I am convinced that in the coming years there will also be something to do. The summer and winter Olympic Games are ahead of us, for which we must prepare ourselves.

The interview was conducted by Wojciech Kruk-Pielesiak

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