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Here’s how Russian athletes were unfairly banned from the Olympics

Problems with WADA’s McLaren Report are too big to be ignored whilst the whole chain of events points to a set up.

With the Rio Summer Olympics starting on August 5, there is huge controversy about Russian participation.  On the basis of the report of the so called Independent Person (IP) headed by a Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren (further called McLaren Report), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has recommended to impose a blanket ban on all Russian athletes, barring them from the Rio Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), however, did not go with this recommendation 100 percent, delegating the final decision on individual athletes to sports’ federations and to a panel of three people appointed by the IOC. Dozens of athletes out of the 387 strong Russian Olympic team, however, are already barred from the competitions. The heaviest losses were inflicted by the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), which banned all Russian track and field athletes, including those who never failed any doping tests, in Russia or outside it.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been under heavy pressure to ban all Russian athletes from the Rio Olympics. The New York Times has carried many reports and editorials.  The Daily Mail in London went so far as to publish a front page story falsely claiming the “entire Russian team banned from Olympics” two days before the IOC’s  decision to the contrary.

Some Canadian and American athletes and sports associations launched campaigns to exclude all Russian athletes. This was condemned by the President of the European Olympic Committees. Here is what he said: “I have to question on what authority the US and Canadian anti-doping agencies prepared their letter and what mandate they have to lead an international call for a ban of another nation in the Olympic family.”


The following time-line shows the sequence of events. 

* February 2014 – Winter Olympics was held in Sochi, a city in southern Russia.

* December 2014 – German TV network ARD showed a documentary alleging widespread Russian doping violations including during the Sochi Games.

* January 2015 – World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) established Independent Commission to look into allegations in the ARD documentary.

* November 2015 – WADA’s Independent Commission published 300+ page report asserting (but not documenting) some “widespread” use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in Russian athletics. The report recommends the prohibition of numerous athletes, coaches and trainers. It identifies the former director of Moscow-based anti-doping lab, the future defector Grigory Rodchenkov, as being “at the heart of the positive drug test cover-up.” The Commission even recommends Mr.Rodchenkov to be permanently removed as director and his laboratory be to be de-certified (several months later McLaren’s report will call Mr. Rodchenkov “a truthful, honest man”).   

* The end of 2015 – Dr. Rodchenkov without problem leaves Russia and goes to USA with support from  an American filmmaker Bryan Fogel and other supporters of the idea of pervasive nature of “Russian doping program.”

* Early May 2016 – American TV program “Sixty Minutes” broadcast Bryan Fogel’s report on Russian doping while the New York Times published articles about Russian doping, which were based on Rodchenkov’s allegations.

* 19 May 2016 – WADA appointed Richard McLaren to investigate media allegations.

* 17 June 2016 – Influenced by a confidential letter from McLaren, the IAAF decided to ban all Russian track and field athletes from the upcoming Rio Olympic Games

* 16 July 2016 – WADA published the Mclaren report.

* 24 July 2016 – International Olympic Committee decided against banning all Russian athletes. Instead, the IOC imposed unique requirements on all Russian athletes, making them fit the criteria which other athletes were not required to fit (such as NEVER failing their previous doping tests and getting an approval of their candidacies by individual sports federations and a special panel of three members).


The McLaren Report, released on July 16, has strongly influenced media reports, public opinion and official decisions regarding Russian participation in the Olympics. 

The purpose of Mr. McLaren’s (named an “independent person” in the official documents) investigation was to establish whether there has been Russian manipulation of the doping control process, how it was done, which athletes might have benefited, whether it was happening in the Moscow Laboratory somewhere else.

Following are significant problems with McLaren’s report:

* The report relies primarily on the testimony of the chief culprit, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov.  While it is possible that Rodchenkov was indeed telling the truth when answering McLaren’s questions, it is also possible that he was lying or misleading to redirect responsibility away from himself.  Rodchenkov has a strong interest in portraying himself as ‘just following orders’.  The report says there is extensive documentation that corroborate Rodchenkov’s claims, but these “documents” have never been shown to the public, so believing or not believing Rodchenkov is a matter of faith. Where is the evidence?

* The report concludes that Rodchenkov is credible and truthful with little demonstrated proof.  In contrast, the November 2015 Independent Commission report concluded that Dr. Rodchenkov was not credible. The fact that Rodchenkov knew techniques of manipulating test results is not evidence of “state controlled doping program,” especially since he was the main culprit. The information spread in previous reports on Russian doping that Rodchenkov was involved in extorting money from athletes – this information suggests opportunism on his part rather than integrity. The former director of Moscow Laboratory has admitted his involvement in urine sample swapping, design of a steroid cocktail not easily traced, and more. He was instrumental in helping some athletes cheat the system. He is also the person with most motivation to implicate others, even if unjustly.  His testimony obviously needs careful scrutiny and cross-checking.

* The investigation did not hear the factual corrections or counter-arguments of Russian authorities.  McLaren says: “The IP did not seek to interview persons living in the Russian Federation …. I did not seek to meet with Russian government officials and did not think it necessary…”  Since the Russian Ministry of Sport and other agencies are accused of serious violations in this report, such words provide strong evidence of bias on Mr. McLaren’s part. It is a basic standard of fairness to hear from the accused.

* The investigation excluded a written rebuttal supplied by one of the accused Russian individuals.  McLaren says: “I also received, unsolicited, an extensive narrative with attachments from one important government representative described in this report. In the short span of 57 days that I was given to conduct this IP investigation it was simply not practical and I deemed such interviewing would not be helpful.” (Page 21)  Since one of the main purposes of the investigation was to determine the truthfulness of Rodchenkov’s accusations, this decision to not consider the ‘unsolicited’ information is shocking. It should have been mandatory to evaluate the arguments and information coming from al sources, including the Russian side.  

* There are inconsistencies in the description of how urine sample bottles were associated with an individual athlete. As reported by Sports Integrity Initiative, “The IP report appears to contain two different versions – both from Rodchenkov – about how ‘protected’ Russian athlete samples were made recognizable at the laboratory.”

* There are inconsistencies in the description of how ‘protected’ Russian athlete samples were identified, separated and then delayed in shipping to the laboratory.  As identified by Sports Integrity Initiative, “The IP Report and IO Report contain conflicting accounts of how samples taken at the Sochi 2014 Olympics were consolidated for shipment to the laboratory.”  One of the descriptions stretches credulity.  In a tightly monitored environment, under supervision of international authorities, would it really be possible to identify Russian test samples among the hundreds being processed, separate them out, then delay their shipment till the end of the day? All of these actions would be necessary if the plan indeed was to make a manipulation in the middle of the night.

* The western media and McLaren report put the blame on all Russian athletes instead of the guilty ones (which could be very few). For example, the “Sixty Minutes” story claims that “numerous Russian athletes were doped at Sochi, including 4 gold medalists that were using steroids.” If we accept that this accusation is true, the next question should be: Why are you not identifying who these 4 athletes are? It would make sense to reveal the culprits’ identities  for two reasons: first, to identify and punish the guilty parties, and second,  not to punish those Russian athletes who were clean. With pairs and team events, there were 25 Russian gold medal winners at Sochi. Why are all of the athletes being smeared because of the wrongdoing of a few? 

* The report claims to have evidence but does not reveal it. For example, on page 14 the report states “Dr. Rodchenkov provided credible evidence that the A and B bottles would pass through the ‘mouse hole’ … into an adjacent room, outside the security perimeter.”  We are left to wonder where is this “credible evidence.”

* The investigation was neither thorough nor comprehensive.  The McLaren investigation had a mandate to carry out a “thorough and comprehensive investigation” which would corroborate or refute the public allegations of Dr. Rodchenkov.  Prof. Mclaren summarizes the situation as follows: “The compressed time frame in which to compile this Report has left much of the possible evidence unreviewed. This report has skimmed the surface of the data… However, we are confident that what we have found meets the highest evidentiary standard and can be stated with confidence.” McLaren thus acknowledges that the investigation was hasty and he did not even review all the evidence, but at the same time he demands absolute trust in his conclusions. By relying primarily on the testimony and evidence provided by Rodchenkov, and excluding testimony and data from Russian Ministry of Sports officials, Mr. McLaren invalidates himself from providing a balanced story. So, his investigation cannot be called neither thorough nor comprehensive.

* McLaren’s description of the “disappearing positive methodology” (his own term), presumably used by the Russians, does not describe a realistic way to hide positive results of anti-doping tests. Here is how this methodology is supposed to work, in McLaren’s view. The culprits would have to:

– conduct an ‘initial analytical screen’ of the athlete;

– if it is a positive result, match the screen with the athlete;

– communicate the information to the Russian Deputy Minister of Sports;

– the Deputy Minister responds with coded message indicating either “save” or “quarantine”;

– if the response is “save”, the test result should be manipulated to become negative;

– if the response is “quarantine” the test can proceed normally.

This description raises questions. Can an officially mandated test be delayed to conduct an ‘initial analytical screen’?  Can a scientifically determined positive result be manipulated and later put on record as a negative result? The report does not explain the time limits during which the presumable illegal operations were conducted. IN this situation a very substantial doubt – could the culprits operate fast enough not to arouse suspicions? – that doubt is left unanswered. 

*The McLaren report makes strong assertions propped up by weak or incomplete evidence. For example, the report says: “It can be made to appear that the laboratory was acting alone. However, given the examination and the insights obtained from evidence available to the IP investigation, it is correct to place the Moscow Laboratory within the ambit of state control.” (P30)  This assertion goes to the core of the case. Unfortunately, McLarren seems to think it is adequate to make this assertion without providing the evidence that is the basis of his “insights”.  The primary evidence of state control of the process seems to be the alleged presence of  “save” and “quarantine” directives as described in the “disappearing positive methodology.” How do the Russian authorities explain or contradict the description of this “save-quarantine” business given in the McLaren report? This is why an objective investigation needs to hear the Russian authorities’ explanation before coming to conclusion.

* The McLaren report casts suspicion on all Russian athletes instead of identifying specific cheaters. The mandate of the investigation was to “Identify any athlete that might have benefited from those alleged manipulations to conceal positive doping tests.” (P3) Instead of doing that, the McLaren report fails to identify any specific athletes who benefited and instead casts suspicion on all Russian athletes. The report does this in many places. The McLaren report says “The IP investigative team has developed evidence identifying dozens of Russian athletes who appear to have been involved in doping. The compressed time-line of the IP investigation did not permit compilation of data to establish an anti-doping rule violation.”  By failing to identify the athletes suspected of benefiting, they cast a cloud of suspicion over all Russian athletes. If we assume that McLaren’s claim is correct, that means “dozens” of cheaters compared to hundreds of clean athletes. Not very fair or sporting. 

Questions for WADA and the IOC 

  1. For WADA: It is claimed that tamper evident urine sample bottles were opened and ‘dirty’ urine exchanged with ‘clean’ urine. Mr. McLaren says that he was witness to a demonstration of this.  Meanwhile the bottle manufacturer has effectively challenged this claim and stands by its product which has been in use for 20 years. What has been done to verify that the bottles can be opened as witnessed by Mclaren?  What has been done to improve the bottles so that this is not possible? 
  2. For WADA: It is claimed that select urine samples were matched to an individual athlete, separated from other samples, then delayed in shipment to the laboratory, then smuggled out of the holding area so that ‘dirty’ urine could be replaced with ‘clean’. Assuming that McLaren report description is true, what has been done to prevent this from happening in future?
  3. For WADA: Fundamental principle #2 of the Olympic Charter is to promote a “peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity”.  Does it not damage this important goal to single out one nation’s athletes and impose collective punishment on all?
  4. For the IOC: Fundamental principle #6 of the Olympic Charter speaks against “discrimination of any kind”.  Are you not discriminating against clean Russian athletes by imposing special conditions and requirements based on nationality?  Isn’t the IAAF violating this principle by banning all Russian track and field athletes from competing at the Olympics including a world record holder who has been tested hundreds of times internationally and never tested positive? 


Following WADA’s Independent Commission report in late 2015,  Russian athletes have been tested through international certified laboratories. The frequency of testing has increased in an effort to demonstrate compliance with anti-doping rules and regulations. If there was still concern that Russian athletes were somehow cheating, the testing regime at the Rio Olympics could have been escalated even more. Instead, WADA and the Mclaren Report have recommended banning all Russian athletes from the Olympics, presumably to embarrass and punish Russian authorities. 

Instead of fighting doping in athletics, this looks like a politically motivated action. We are all the losers as it will increase international tension while decreasing the inclusiveness and quality of the Rio Olympic Games.  We all lose, except those who want to demonize Russia.

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Rick Sterling
Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist and member of the Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be contacted at