WADA appoints law firm to probe bullying claims as pressure ramps up over Russia
The World Anti-Doping Agency said yesterday that it has appointed the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP to investigate allegations of bullying by senior officials at WADA.
The move follows allegations by Beckie Scott, the chair of WADA’s athlete committee, that she was “treated with disrespect” at a recent meeting and faced “inappropriate” comments and gestures from some members of WADA’s executive committee.
Scott, who with other athletes, opposed WADA’s decision to reinstate the suspended RUSADA, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, subsequently resigned from the independent Compliance Review Committee in protest at the decision.
WADA said that the law firm will “further investigate allegations of bullying and harassment within the organisation, including allegations concerning conduct by members of the Agency’s Executive Committee (ExCo) during its meeting in the Seychelles in September 2018.”
An external, independent review of the allegations has already been completed and discussed by WADA’s executive committee, but WADA said in a statement yesterday that its executive committee had decided that, “given the seriousness of the allegations, a further investigation should be carried out, and that WADA should seek legal advice to help in determining a path forward.”
It added that the law firm “has been given the mandate to conduct a full and thorough investigation of allegations of bullying and harassment, including interviews of the relevant parties; and, to deliver unbiased and independent findings to the ExCo.”
Following her resignation from the Compliance Review Committee, Scott told the BBC that the treatment she faced was “indicative of a general attitude of dismissal and belittling of the athlete voice.”
Scott said she resigned from the CRC because she “fundamentally disagreed” with the decision to reinstate RUSADA. She said: “I felt it was a compromise. I don't think it was acceptable to clean athletes, especially in light of the affront to clean sport that had taken place.
“It was an altering of a ‘roadmap’ that was established by WADA in order to regain compliance. And it was basically a reversal of the conditions, so compliance was established before conditions had been met.
“I think from an athletes’ perspective that is such an affront because no-one is altering rules and regulations to ensure athletes reach their goals or achieve their results.”
Subsequently, Russia missed a deadline of 31 December 2018 to give access to inspectors to the Moscow laboratory at the centre of the country’s doping scandal, meaning that the RUSADA suspension looks almost certain to be reimposed, and provoking a strong response this week from a range of sport’s stakeholders, including athletes.
A group of influential national anti-doping agencies accused WADA of presiding over “more than three years of review, indecision and compromise in response to the worst doping scandal in the history of sport.”
Now, with emotions running high over the issue, athlete activist Sebastian Samuelsson, the PyeongChang winter Olympic biathlon silver medallist, has written an open letter to Jonathan Taylor, chair of the CRC, pressing for the immediate re-imposition of the suspension.
Claiming that the CRC has remained “completely silent in the face of what is the biggest crisis the global regulator has ever faced and following the biggest scandal in sporting history,” Samuelsson wrote: “You can understand why the world’s athletes and sports fans are completely bewildered at this out-of-touch behaviour, and the constant secretive backroom deals and compromises by your parent body WADA at a time when they expect decisive leadership and action.”
Referring to WADA’s own claim that a period of two weeks is required to “ensure that there was time for a full report to be provided by the WADA compliance taskforce,” Samuelsson continued: “this is nothing but obscene bureaucracy and hiding behind ‘due process’; only a few months ago we heard that a failure from Russia to meet the rules would result in immediate non-compliance following 31 December…
“By not acting, and by dragging heels, WADA and your Compliance Committee is showing itself to be siding with the cheats instead of the honest athletes, and by doing everything within its power to help the nation that committed doping fraud.”
Samuelson concluded: “Any further delays by your Committee simply says one thing: we have sided with the cheats over the honest athletes.