Russian Roulette On Drugs

What on earth are the Russians doing? I’m not talking about hacking American emails or tilting the US Presidential election in favour of a lunatic named Trump. I’m not interested in the sordid world of Trump’s collusion with Putin and his mates.

This is sport. This is Russia bringing their repugnant morality out of politics and into sport. On January 1st the deadline for Russia to provide samples and other data from its Moscow anti-doping lab came and went. Russia simply said, “Screw you world. The samples are ours and you are never going to get them.”

The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) now has to decide whether to reinstate the ban on Russia that was, unbelievably, lifted in September 2018.

I see that Drug Free Sport New Zealand Chief Executive, Nick Patterson, has been reassuringly clear on the issue. He said;

“Once more we are dismayed but not surprised that Russia has missed another deadline. It has been clear that Russia had no intention of delivering on the requirements of the Wada deal of September 2018. Sadly there is no other option available to Wada but make Rusada (Russian Anti-Doping Agency) non-compliant once more. The time for negotiation and compromise is long past.

“We hold Kiwi athletes strictly accountable and expect them to comply with the rules. We should do the same for countries. Clean sport and clean athletes deserve our support.  It is time to stand strong, and all those involved in the fight against doping to stand together.”

That is all good, reassuring stuff. The problem for New Zealand sport is, will it result in any meaningful action on the part of New Zealand to stop a bunch of Russian cheats? New Zealand is in a good position to do something positive. We have two senior representatives in the Wada halls of power, the Minister of Finance and Minister of Sport, Grant Robertson, is on Wada’s central committee and Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) President, Dave Gerrard is Chairman of an important Wada committee.

Will either of them push to ban all Russian competitors for their country’s bad behaviour? I think we can discount Dave Gerrard as a force for reform. Inviting controversy, no matter how just the cause, has never been an obvious Gerrard quality. Staying clear of controversy was how he ended up as President of SNZ. You don’t get to that position in SNZ by rocking their happy little boat – even if it is sinking.

Grant Robertson may however be a better advocate for justice. My only concern is that he may do a Jamal Khashoggi. What does that mean? Well, you may remember that when the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered in the Saudi embassy Donald Trump refused to act because he saw American trade with Saudi Arabia as more important than a human life. I would hope Grant Robertson has more moral fibre than the President of the United States; not that that would be too difficult.

However having been Managing Director of export company, Colyer Watsons, I also know how valuable trade with the Russians can be. We sold them many containers of meat and bone meal, tallow and cattle hides. I have spent time in Moscow, when it was the capital of the Soviet Union, hammering out deals with the state bureaucracy. Today, of course, milk products have added millions to New Zealand and Russian trade.

Is it worth putting all that at risk to reform world sport? Is New Zealand going to stand on principle like it once did on the nuclear issue or has Donald Trump become the example we choose to follow? That is a problem only Grant Robertson can resolve. He is certain to receive no end of advice on what New Zealand should do.         

For example, the Wada compliance committee will meet on January 14 to consider reinstating the ban, and the Wada executive committee will meet “as soon as practicable thereafter” to consider the recommendation, a Wada news release said.

“I am bitterly disappointed that data extraction from the former Moscow Laboratory has not been completed by the date agreed by Wada’s Executive Committee in September 2018,” Wada president Craig Reedie said.

After the deadline passed, US Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said “no one is surprised this deadline was ignored and it’s time for Wada to stop being played by the Russians and immediately declare them non-compliant for failing yet again to meet the deadline.”

The UK Anti-Doping athletes’ commission also released a statement Tuesday calling on Wada to re-impose the sanctions immediately.

Even the chief of the Russian drug agency, Yuri Ganus, appealed to President Vladimir Putin to help resolve the issue.

“We’re standing on the edge of the abyss, and I’m asking you to protect the present and the future of our clean sports, the current and future generations of athletes,” Ganus said in a letter addressed to Putin last week.

It is not an easy problem. But there is a right way and a wrong way for New Zealand to react. In my view we should do what is right and kick the whole Russian country and their athletes and swimmers into touch. The world has had enough. Too many clean athletes have been hurt by Russian cheats who hide behind their political masters. It is time for that to stop. New Zealand should act accordingly.

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