WADA optimistic Russia taking steps to fix anti-doping system

World Anti-Doping Agency President Craig Reedie speaks to the media during a press conference after the agency's Foundation Board meeting Thursday, May 18, 2017 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

MONTREAL — Beckie Scott is hoping that an athletes anti-doping charter of rights will help prevent the kind of infractions that nearly cost her a cross country skiing gold medal at the 2002 Olympics.

The Vegreville, Alta., native and chair of the World Anti-Doping agency athletes committee outlined plans for a charter at the group’s Foundation Board meeting on Thursday.

She said the idea for a charter, which she hopes will be ready next year, came from the widespread outrage from athletes over the doping scandal that surfaced in 2015 over state-sponsored doping in Russia.

"We wanted to answer the calls from these athletes with something meaningful," Scott said. "To give you something concrete to reference and to help you feel empowered, and maybe give you some power, in terms of your rights.

"There isn’t actually a document out there right now that outlines athletes’ rights in terms of clean, fair sport."

The final content will be determined by consultations with athletes, lawyers and other experts to create "a concrete and hopefully legally defensible document that athletes can reference."

Scott finished third in the five-kilometre pursuit event at the Salt Lake City Games, but eventually was promoted to gold when the two skiers ahead of her tested positive for banned substances.

She hopes a charter will give athletes more say in ensuring that only clean athletes can compete and win.

The idea arose at an athletes committee meeting earlier this year in Lausanne, Switzerland. One of its backers is Johann Koss, the Norwegian speedskating champion behind the Right To Play movement who is also involved in Fair Sport, which champions drug-free competition.

"There was a sense of powerlessness when all this (Russian scandal) unfolded because the decisions were being made very high above athletes, and maybe without due consideration of how most athletes felt," Scott said. "Our hope is that it’s ratified by the relevant sporting bodies or organizations that do anti-doping work."

WADA president Craig Reedie said he was an observer at the Lausanne meeting.

"It probably allows them to draw attention to deficiencies, as they see it, in the system," said Reedie. "One of the issues they have is to reduce the demands and rights they want to have.

"It’s a work in progress. It’s going to take a year to do. This year athletes have been very involved in the anti-doping debate. It’s a natural follow-on that the athletes committee and other athletes committees would co-operate on that type of charter."

The highlight of the board meeting was a report showing Russia was taking steps to fix its doping control system.

A report from Rob Koehler, head of the agency’s Compliance Review Committee, said Russia has agreed to a list of conditions for reinstatement of its suspended national anti-doping agency. They include ensuring that anti-doping officials are independent of outside influence, addressing conflict of interest concerns and that cities previously barred from visitors be opened up to doping testers.

WADA hopes that if they meet the conditions, the Russian anti-doping agency Rusada can resume operations under international supervision in June.

"I am particularly pleased that the board decided that if we receive the necessary information from Russia on four modest completions of a program we’ve been working on for many months that the Russian anti-doping agency will be able to resume a testing program in that enormous country," said Reedie. "It’s really important what’s been achieved today."

He added that there has been a "change in culture" among Russian anti-doping officials and confirmed that Yelena Isinbayeva, the pole vaulter who called sanctions an anti-Russian plot and whose appointment to Russia’s anti-doping committee was considered by some as a provocation, would be removed at the end of May.

Reports of state-sponsored doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics led to sanctions that barred many Russian athletes from competing, and resulted in international events being withdrawn from Russia.

WADA agreed to set rules to sanction bodies such as international sports federations or national Olympic committees found to be breaking anti-doping rules in a similar way in which it punishes athletes.

They also agreed to put the new rules in place as quickly as possible instead of waiting until the next WADA code revisions in 2021. Consultations are to begin in June with a final proposal to be put to vote in November. It would come into effect during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but would only apply to new cases.

"We haven’t had a proper compliance program and now we will," said Reedie. "There will be a consultation process that may take several months, but this will be an improvement in the way we operate."