What next for sport and the IAAF in the wake of Russia’s doping crisis?

Published 10 November 2015 By: Jack Anderson


In December 2014, a German TV documentary made some astonishing claims about systemic doping in Russian athletics.1 Based principally on evidence provided by a former Russian anti-doping official, the programme alleged that leading Russian athletics officials supplied banned substances in exchange for 5% of an athlete’s earnings. There were also allegations both of doping control officers colluding with athletes to falsify tests and attempting to blackmail athletes who had tested positive.

A subsequent investigation by the Sunday Times, based on an analysis of 12,000 blood tests taken from 5,000 athletes over the past decade, reinforced the view that Russia is the “epicentre” of blood doping in sport.2

Earlier this month, French prosecutors announced that the former President of the IAAF (the world governing body for athletics), Lamine Diack,3 is being investigated over allegations he took payments for deferring sanctions against Russian drugs cheats. Diack’s son and three others have also been charged with various alleged breaches of the IAAF’s code of ethics.

French prosecutors, now liaising with Interpol,4 were acting on information supplied by the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) who, in the wake of the German TV doping documentary, had established an independent commission to verify the accuracy of the programme’s allegations.


Extent of problems revealed by the Independent Commission Report

The Independent Commission Report (IRC)5 published on 9 November 2015, (WADA’s ICR on Russian Doping) has essentially concluded that the German investigation was accurate. In the immediate aftermath of this report, much media attention will focus on whether Russia should be temporarily suspended from the IAAF and how the current IAAF President, Seb Coe, might attempt to restore the credibility of the sport, less than ten months from the beginning of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, at which athletics will be the centrepiece of the final week of action.

On the Russian “problem”,6 it must also be remembered that the allegations in the German TV documentary were not confined to athletics and referred to doping conspiracies in a host of endurance events and including “state-sponsored” collusion at a troika of Russian government funded agencies –the national anti-doping agency, the national athletics federation and the nation’s WADA-accredited anti-doping laboratory in Moscow and possibly in Lausanne.

Consequently, the IAAF’s problem becomes the world’s problem as doubt is cast on medals won by Russian participants not just at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, but also at the 2013 World Athletics Championships (held in Moscow), the 2014 Winter Olympics (Sochi) and this year’s World Swimming Championship held in Kazan. Moreover, it is likely the FIFA will have to look again at who manages its on-site anti-doping programme for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

What can be done?

On the credibility issue, the best advice to give Coe is that he should contact his fellow Briton, Brian Cookson,7 President of the world governing body for cycling (UCI) who, earlier this year, had to announce sweeping reforms in light of a similar deluge of doping allegations in that sport.

Two of the UCI’s proposed reforms8 are of interest.

  • First, the establishment of an independent anti-doping tribunal specific to the sport and consisting of judges specialised in anti-doping claims. The UCI’s idea is that such a tribunal would take the current operational burden of doping trials away from national federations and ensure consistency and uniform quality in doping cases decisions, thus reducing the number of cases that go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on appeal.

  • The second reform is that the UCI has proposed that before a team can be registered to compete in the sport it must show evidence of a minimum level of compliance with anti-doping regulations; if not, that team license to compete can be withheld. Moreover, where there is proof of systemic doping within a team, the UCI reforms suggest that the team ought to be suspended for an escalating period of months.

    This licencing/team-suspension model could be adapted by the IAAF to athletics: on proof of systemic doping at a national level, the governing national federation could be held vicariously liable for the action of its athletes and/or if that national athletic federation did not satisfy the anti-doping licencing regime then their athletes could be banned from competing internationally.

The WADA’s ICR on Russian Doping also has repercussions for sport globally.  Two are noteworthy.

  • The first repercussion relates to WADA itself. In 2014, a record 283,304 samples9 were analysed by WADA-accredited laboratories. Russia (12,556) was second only to China (13,180) in the most tests carried out by a national anti-doping organisations10 Almost laughably, adverse findings were returned in only 0.9% of the Russian samples carried out mainly at a laboratory in Moscow. WADA’s ICR on Russian Doping has revealed that the laboratory’s director Grigory Rodchenkov “personally instructed and authorized” the destruction of 1,417 doping control samples three days before a WADA audit team arrived in Moscow last December.

    WADA’s ICR on Russian Doping indicates that Russian athletes’ samples should be sent for testing to labs in other countries.

    In must be remembered however that in its report on 2014, WADA admitted that globally, adverse findings were returned for only 1.36% of tests. How credible is this finding that 98.64% of tests were negative?  In any event, what (will)power does WADA have to sanction NADOs or member states who do not comply with the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC)?

    Ineffective compliance with WADC was central to a damning report on “ineffectiveness of testing” by an Ad Hoc Working Group,11 chaired by former WADA President Richard W. Pound and presented to WADA’s Executive Committee in 2011. Pound, also chaired the ICR of 9 Nov and thus it is not surprising that the sentiments underpinning Pound’s 2011 recommendations (and frustrations) are reiterated in this ICR on doping in Russian athletics.

  • The second repercussion of the ICR on Russian Doping is that it once again reveals a core weakness in the political governance of world sport – the lack of a separation of powers.

    In global sporting terms, the IOC is sport’s public House of Representatives; WADA has been delegated executive powers to deal with doping; CAS acts as sport’s judiciary. While questions about the individual effectiveness of each branch remain and in particular the lack of athlete representation; of equal importance is the fact that the relationship between all three is simply too close-knit and lacks transparency.  There is, for example, considerable and unnecessary crossover in the membership of the executives of the IOC, CAS and WADA.



In short, although 2015 may go down as sport’s annus horribilis due to the combination of doping and corruption allegations charged against the UCI, FIFA and the IAAF; the wider picture is that sport is condemned to repeat its mistakes until such time as it realises that its current governance structures – based on a loose, self-regulatory model with origins in the 19th century – are no longer fit for purpose.

The starkest and most perverse manifestation of this in the ICR on Russian Doping is the revelation that the only consistent element of Russia’s anti-doping governance is that both “clean” and “dirty” have to bribe officials in order to compete.


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Jack Anderson

Jack Anderson

Jack Anderson is Professor and Director of Sports Law Studies at the University of Melbourne. The sports law program at Melbourne was one of the first to be established globally in the mid-1980 and continues to expand at the Melbourne Law School, which itself is ranked in the top 10 law schools globally.

Jack has published widely in the area including monographs such as The Legality of Boxing (Routledge 2007) and Modern Sports Law (Hart 2010) and edited collections such as Landmark Cases in Sports Law (Asser 2013) and EU Sports Law (Edward Elgar 2018 with R Parrish and B Garcia). He was Editor-in-Chief of the International Sports Law Journal based at the International Sports Law Centre at the Asser Institute from 2013 to 2016. 

Jack is a former member of CAS (2016-2018).  He became a member of the inaugural International Amateur Athletics Federation’s Disciplinary Tribunal and the International Hockey Federation’s Integrity Unit in 2017.  In 2019, he was appointed to the International Tennis Federation’s Ethics Commission. He is currently chair of the Advisory Group establishing a National Sports Tribunal for Australia

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