With Monday's release of the McLaren report (aka "Sochi report") commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, here are some frequently asked questions and quick takes on an unprecedented situation:
Q: What is the McLaren report?
A: An investigation ordered by the World Anti-Doping Agency in May, and led by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, after WADA was backed into a corner following revelations by former Moscow lab director Grigory Rodchenkov in a May 2016 New York Times report.
Q: What were the major findings of the McLaren report?
A: To the shock and surprise of no one who has been paying attention over the past 18 months, the same government-supported Russian sports bureaucracy shown to have systematically undermined anti-doping efforts in track and field was shown to have done the same across multiple sports, summer and winter.
Q: Isn't this a little late in the game?
With all due respect to the investigators, who appear to have done a massive amount of work in a very compressed time frame, anyone interested in any semblance of fair play should be livid that this avalanche of information has emerged only 18 days before the start of the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. It creates enormous potential legal and political complications with little time to resolve them. WADA should have acted to expand the investigation right after Part I of the independent commission report was released in November -- something its own athlete committee urged.
Q: What are some highlights in the findings of the McLaren report?
A: The WADA-accredited Moscow lab, in McLaren's words, "operated for the protection of doped Russian athletes" within a "state-directed failsafe system" using "the disappearing positive [test] methodology." Positive samples from protected (i.e., medal-contender-quality) Russian athletes were screened and deleted from the records. The aptly named Center for Sports Preparation collected and stored clean urine to be swapped for dirty samples at the Sochi Olympics lab. Supposedly tamper-proof sample bottles were, in fact, messed with. Secret police (whose office in Sochi was steps away from the IOC's and WADA's) actively participated in the scam. The conspiracy was orchestrated by the Ministry of Sport and affected more than two dozen summer and winter Olympic sports. After the WADA independent commission investigation began, a pre-announced visit by investigators resulted in some 8,000 samples stored at the Moscow lab being destroyed. (Click here to read the full McLaren report.)
Q: Hadn't we heard this before?
A: Yes, just not in so much detail. WADA released a two-part independent commission report in November 2015 and January 2016, a probe commissioned after it was backed into a corner following revelations in an investigative documentary by the German television network ARD. The documentary included substantial evidence of organized doping, cover-ups and bribery within the Russian track and field federation, much of it gathered by Russian whistleblowers Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov. The report mentioned that Rodchenkov had destroyed 1,400 samples of athletes from multiple sports and secret police were present in the Sochi lab. Because track and field is not a winter sport, the logical deduction was that the same corruption had permeated beyond that federation.
Q: What does all this mean?
A: We're about to find out whether the International Olympic Committee has the spine to eject a wealthy superpower from its festival tent -- a country that deliberately subverted anti-doping efforts for years, made a farce of the 2014 Winter Games and cheated some unknown number of clean athletes out of economic and psychological payoffs.
Q: What will happen next?
A: The IOC has called a teleconference for Tuesday to discuss possible sanctions. In recent months, through its actions and the statements of president Thomas Bach, the IOC showed a reluctance to issue wholesale bans, citing the rights of individual Russian athletes said to be "clean," while failing to address the individual rights of other clean athletes denied fair results for years because of the Russian system. The IOC also could toss the eligibility question back into the laps of individual international sports federations (i.e., FINA for swimming, FIFA for soccer, etc.) which have neither the time nor the investigative capability to determine one by one which nations or athletes should be permitted to compete in Rio 18 days from now.
Q: What is the reaction so far?
A: WADA has called for Russia to be barred from participating in the Rio Games. A leaked letter prepared by U.S. and Canadian anti-doping officials indicated those entities would jointly ask for the same. Members of the WADA athlete committee and IOC athletes commission are expected to issue their statement opposing Russian participation in Rio shortly. WADA athlete commission chair Beckie Scott, who called for an expanded investigation of Russian sport in November, reached out to other athlete and anti-doping groups to solicit support for a ban. Scott has specific moral authority on the subject, having been fleeced out of an Olympic gold medal by two doped Russian cross-country skiers 14 years ago.
Q: Isn't the Russian track and field federation already suspended?
A: Yes, but individual athlete eligibility became the focus of a tug-of-war between the IAAF, track's world governing body, and the IOC. The IAAF wanted to grant only limited exceptions to the ban, for Russian athletes who had lived and/or been extensively tested outside the system, and to have those few athletes compete under a neutral flag. The IOC countered by saying it has sole authority over flags, which is vastly comforting to everyone watching the credibility of global sports governance and anti-doping systems collapse. The Court of Arbitration for Sport is expected to announce its rulings on Russian appeals this week. It's uncertain what would happen if CAS rules in favor of some individual athletes and the IOC (or individual international federations) ban Russia from Rio. Confused? So is everyone. This is uncharted territory being traversed unnecessarily late.
Q: Hasn't Russia started some reform efforts?
A: The country has indicated that is the case, but the McLaren report strongly implicated officials who continue to occupy key positions in the sports-government complex. In addition, anti-doping personnel from the United Kingdom assigned to carry out additional testing this year encountered substantial obstruction and obfuscation. Reforming a system and culture that took years to create and implement within a matter of months is a ludicrous proposition. It's also a slap in the face to athletes around the world who have competed cleanly or were punished for minor, inadvertent infractions.
Q: Is Russia the only villain?
A: No, it's just the most apparent, front and center. Global anti-doping needs an overhaul and a critical, objective review of purpose via the efficacy of testing, intelligence and handling of whistleblowers. There's a lot of blame to go around, including WADA, the IOC, numerous international federations, national Olympic committees and other alphabet soup associations where ignorance -- willful or not -- often trumped commonsense analysis. Journalists need to look in the mirror, as well. Investigative reporting played the most important role in bringing corruption to light in recent years. But for far too long, the anti-doping infrastructure did not receive sufficient media scrutiny. It is, and was, subject to the same corrosive forces of conflict of interest and geopolitics as the rest of the industry of international sport.
Q: How could this affect the Rio Games overall?
A: The actual sporting competition is perhaps the only aspect of the Rio Games anyone is looking forward to amid the myriad social, economic, infrastructure, security, environmental, ethical and public health issues threatening these Games. If Russia is allowed to compete, controversy rather than accomplishment will dominate any event involving a Russian athlete. Olympic officials would get the Games they deserve -- one that is compromised in every way.