Where was Maria Sharapova, one of the world’s top female tennis players, back in 2016? If you don’t remember seeing her on the courts of Melbourne, Paris, London, or New York, take comfort in the fact that she was banned from playing due to failing a drug test at the Australian Open. Sharapova somehow passed an initial round of testing conducted by the Russian State’s Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada) and was allowed to compete, but a second round caught her using Mildronate, a drug banned by the International Tennis Federation. This incident led the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to ban Rusada.
This past week, however, the WADA decided to reinstate Rusada. According to BBC, this reinstatement, which was backed by nine of 11 members of WADA’s executive committee, is an absolute disaster. By reducing the necessary punishment of Rusada and Russian athletes in general, WADA is destroying integrity in sports as we know it.
Rusada was banned in July 2016 from conducting any more urine and blood tests on athletes due to repeated cover-ups of positive test results and deep lines of corruption. Grigory Rodchenkov, a former Russian anti-doping official who admitted to helping athletes cheat, was a major contributor in exposing Rusada. This major doping scandal also led to Russia’s ban from attending the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. As a result, only 150 Russian athletes competed, under the name “Olympic Athletes From Russia.”
The consistency of these corrupted positive tests have shocked international circles, causing widespread condemnation and backlash against Russian athletes and Rusada. The UK Anti-Doping Agency has even specifically called out the reinstatement, stating that “to ignore these conditions, [WADA] ignores the wishes of the athletes you are there to protect.”
Integrity is the key to sports in high school, college, and professional ranks. Russia and Rusada have brutally ripped part of that integrity away from international sports and have now been given another chance to repeat their mistakes. Athletes train for their whole lives — starting at ages as young as two or three — to achieve their dreams of winning an Olympic Gold Medal or a professional championship. As an aspiring athlete myself, I know all too well that family time and schoolwork are sacrificed for triumph.
Yet, as seen from some cases in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, everything that participating athletes worked for was undermined by various cheating athletes sponsored by Russia and Rusada. For example, four cross-country skiers and two bobsledders whose tests were confirmed as positive by Moscow’s Anti-Doping Agency won gold at Sochi. WADA has sent one clear message to the world: they place the wills of a small handful of sports administrators and world leaders above the dreams of millions of clean athletes and sports fans.
Jim Walden, Rodchenkov’s lawyer, has a painfully accurate take on this issue: WADA’s decision is “the greatest treachery against clean athletes in Olympic history.” Russia and Rusada sent their athletes out into international competition with clear knowledge of counterfeit doping tests, but after only three years and one Olympic Games, they are being given a second chance. This is absolutely ludicrous! There are no apparent signs of change within Rusada, and the fact that they partially failed to meet one of the initial conditions for their reinstatement should be reason enough for the continuation of the ban (BBC). Despite constant signs of corruption and indifference within Rusada, however, Russian athletes are now able to return to the international stage. Based upon this decision, it is clear that WADA is not protecting the integrity of sports and the cleanliness of its participants.
International sports unify the world in ways that no other events can. But, in order for these sports to remain the universal symbols that they have been for over 2000 years, integrity must be maintained. This calls for a robust, independent, and confident WADA that can stand on its own two feet against the likes of Russia and Rusada. Only if this happens can honor return to the global stage of international sports.
Jonathan Fu is a two-year lower from Short Hills, NJ. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.