Doping: WADA chief says path to bringing Russian cases to justice has been painful

FILE PHOTO: Olivier Niggli, Director general of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) attends the WADA Symposium in Ecublens near Lausanne, Switzerland, March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

(Reuters) – WADA Director General Olivier Niggli said the process to get the first batch of Russian doping cases turned over to international sports federations had been “very painful” but he was confident that sanctions would soon follow.

The 43 Russian doping cases were all built on data retrieved in January from a discredited Moscow laboratory, access to which was a key condition behind WADA’s decision last year to reinstate Russia’s banned anti-doping agency.

“That’s what was missing for us to actually bring cases to justice and that’s exactly what’s happening now so that we have the evidence, we have the data and we can work on these cases,” Niggli told Reuters in a telephone interview on Thursday.

“We are in a much stronger position now than we were before but the journey has been very painful.”

WADA said this week it expected to investigate each of the 298 “priority cases” by the end of 2019, and each governing body would decide whether to pursue them.

Niggli said WADA has remained in close collaboration with the federations since handing over the doping cases and early indications were that sanctions would soon follow.

“We have good feedback that they are proceeding with the cases one by one,” said Niggli. “So they haven’t decided on all the cases but they started the work and for some of them cases are already in the prosecution phase.”

According to Niggli, no more than five international sports federations had so far received cases but “quite a number” more could expect to. None would be identified so as to allow them the chance to do their work without any added pressure.

Niggli said the amount of evidence differed for each case and the advice given to each federation was to begin their process by looking at the most compelling ones first.

“Once you get precedence setting the requirements and the level of evidence that is required for each case you can better assess whether you still have enough evidence to go forward with cases where you have less evidence,” said Niggli.

“There is going to be some sort of feedback strategy where you prosecute strong┬ácases, you see what the decision is and you get to the next level and hope that you win.

“And at some point a line will be drawn by the disciplinary bodies and at the end of the day by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) as to what is the adequate level of evidence that is acceptable.”

Niggli said each case had merit and should be looked at very closely by the federations, adding that in any instances where prosecution was deemed not in order then WADA would discuss with them why that path had been chosen.

Should a federation decide against proceeding with anti-doping hearings, WADA reserved the right to take individual cases forward to CAS.

“If they decide not to prosecute we will need to understand why and then we’ll have a discussion. If it’s for scientific reasons and expert reasons we will have discussions with our own experts versus their experts,” said Niggli.

“But at the end of the day if we don’t agree with them — and some we may agree with them that there is no reason to go further — but if we don’t agree with them then for sure we will bring it to CAS.”

Niggli said the start of prosecution after years of standstill was a step in the right direction towards turning the page on a complex Russian file.

“Hopefully one day we can finish with that one. That being said our work will continue in terms of compliance and making sure that the system in Russia stays… and that testing takes place and that their anti-doping organisation continues to be dependent and works well and so on,” said Niggli.

“It’s not because we finish that we are going to be turning and looking elsewhere than Russia and the countries with which we are monitoring.”

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