McLaren Report further exposes inaction, Russian corruption

The McLaren Report Part II, released Friday, is the fourth major investigative document on Russian doping to be published in the past 13 months. All were commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. All were initially prompted by whistleblowers combined with journalistic pressure rather than proactive internal questioning and probing.

Each has added a layer of understanding to the scope of centralized sabotage in Russia, where the tentacles extended from the government out onto the field of play. The country's political-athletic-industrial complex reacted to each new anti-doping initiative with the organic response of antibiotic-resistant bacteria: It mutated and persevered. More than 1,000 athletes in 30 sports have been shown to be involved so far. Every major international competition within the past five years has been compromised on a scale that exceeds even the most cynical suspicions.

There is enough revision needed to the medal standings that the International Olympic Committee really should schedule a midterm Games just to conduct fresh podium ceremonies -- assuming, that is, that the new recipients were tested as well. Because the most obvious conclusion to be drawn from the cumulatively numbing information on the table is that the current anti-doping infrastructure is far too easily gamed -- by Russia or by any individual, sport or nation with sufficient will and wile. As my British colleagues would say, it isn't "fit for purpose."

Never has the gap between cheaters and testers been so well-illuminated. As usual, that spotlight has been directed far too late to benefit any athletes who followed the rules. Such a gap is inevitable to some degree, but Russia's system also flourished because the entities that run international sport are wired to protect their own turf rather than the grass, asphalt, hardwood, ice and snow where athletes compete.

We'd like sports to be straightforward, and sometimes they are perversely so. Russia's motive was plain -- a piddling three gold medals in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games -- and some tools eventually used in that service were MacGyver-esque in their simplicity: Water and salt and instant coffee to alter dirty urine samples. Coke and baby bottles to stash clean urine for future swaps. Slim strips of metal to break into supposedly tamper-proof sample bottles and a pass-through hole in the wall at the Sochi 2014 laboratory.

Much of this was previewed in Canadian law professor Richard McLaren's first report, released in July three weeks before the Rio Summer Games to some controversy because of reliance on testimony from former Moscow lab director Grigory Rodchenkov.

Rodchenkov, who first described his experience to the New York Times last spring, adroitly played both sides of the fence, developing the science for better detection of steroid use while simultaneously crafting the methodology to beat it. (Friday's report also states Rodchenkov moonlighted as a Russian federal secret agent.) This is a meme often repeated in sports doping, where research can serve dark and light purposes equally well.

McLaren Part II turned to forensic evidence to see if Rodchenkov's claims could be substantiated. The professor notes that many witnesses are still reluctant to cooperate because of fears for their safety, and many urine samples remain beyond his reach, long since destroyed or sealed up in the Moscow lab by Russian investigators, a label that should be an oxymoron by now.

However, the testing McLaren was able to commission, and the correspondence and data lifted from Rodchenkov's hard drive, revealed enough to corroborate Part I of the report.

There wasn't always enough clean or altered urine to switch for dirty samples. DNA testing showed that urine from different athletes was mixed. Russia's most prominent athletes were placed on protected lists from the start, their samples automatically misreported as negative in the databases of the Moscow lab and WADA, or earmarked for swapping at competitions. The women's hockey team was elevated to that status on the eve of the Sochi Games, but equality of treatment in Russia's national game proved elusive. Execution was sloppy. Male DNA found its way into two of their urine samples.

At that point, Russia had gotten away with so much that it seemed unlikely that would ever surface.

Isolated attempts to expose the system were ignored, shelved or undermined until it was no longer possible to do so, as was the case with the whistleblowing Stepanovs. McLaren highlights another example that is just as glaring in retrospect: The December 2012 email sent by discus thrower Darya Pishchalnikova straight to the WADA database, addressed to the presidents of the IOC, WADA and IAAF, track and field's governing body.

The text of the email is included in the hundreds of pages of evidence posted by McLaren's team on a searchable website. It's unclear whether wording is original or translated, but its content is unmistakable: Pishchalnikova, an Olympic silver medalist, had been busted. She didn't think it was fair, and she pointed the powers that be toward what she knew about bribery and sample-swapping.

It's hard to parse whether she was being heroic or vindictive or both, but that doesn't really matter. There was no chance her tip was going to be pursued. Subsequent events have implicated the IAAF in the cover-up. Neither WADA -- which already had two-plus years of damning correspondence from Vitaly Stepanov at that point -- nor the IOC wanted any part of lifting the curtain. Soon enough, Pishchalnikova was suspended by her own federation.

The evidence against Russia should lead to the kind of broad sanctions rejected by the IOC before the Rio Games. No international competitions should be held in a country with a noncompliant anti-doping agency and continued obstruction of outside efforts to test its athletes, as was documented at last month's WADA Foundation Board meeting in Glasgow, Scotland. Russian athletes are still playing hide-and-seek from testers in closed military cities; there is a shortage of trained doping control officers; and record-keeping is sketchy.

Repeat: No international competitions. That should include the bobsled and skeleton world championships slated for February in Sochi, and it should include the 2018 FIFA World Cup. No athlete -- including any Russian athletes, by the way -- should be asked to compete there until the security of their urine samples and internet accounts can be better assured. Do you believe in miracles? It would take an unprecedented one to fix what's wrong in Russia in the next 18 months.

Russia should also be excluded from the next Winter Olympics, specifically for rigging its own Games. The boundary between individual and collective responsibility so ballyhooed by the IOC last summer is dissolving and diluted, watered down by the near-certainty that athletes knew providing clean pee in a Coke bottle wasn't standard operating procedure. Denial still reigns, in this appointment of a home team defender to a key anti-doping position and the continued dissent from Russian officials.

But the McLaren Report has to be viewed in a context far larger than Russia, as well. It follows, by mere weeks, an extensive critique of the anti-doping process at the Rio Games. And it comes after months of sample retesting from the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games by the IOC that has revealed a preponderance of Russian positives concentrated in two or three sports.

First, on retesting: It's a good tool. But the way the IOC has conducted it, with little transparency or useful detail, gets us nowhere in terms of understanding the institutional failures. The dozens of busts for old-school steroids have come from a relative handful of nations, including many former Soviet republics. The vast majority are from the already-battered sport of weightlifting, along with the field events of track and field and a smattering of wrestlers.

It defies reason that the retesting has not ensnared athletes from other sports with high stakes and payoffs, that not a single medalist from swimming or gymnastics or tennis or basketball or the 100- or 200-meter events on the track has been caught. It defies common sense that there are no medal winners from North America and few from Western Europe or Asia -- or any household names at all -- on a list that has doubled since the summer and will continue to grow.

We don't know which sports and athletes and nations may be "cleaner," because we don't know who has been retested. This information has been withheld by the IOC on the premise that revealing it could somehow help the cheaters -- but unless there are mouse holes in every WADA-accredited lab, how would posting test distribution data on 8-year-old samples affect reanalysis results?

Meanwhile, we are told 500-plus retesting results from the 2006 Torino Games are locked up by some sort of legal issue. We are told the retests from London 2012 will continue right up until Tokyo 2020. The athletes are told to be patient. They have every right not to be. They have every right to wonder if the IOC is doing the minimum possible to show it is doing something, rather than making its best-faith effort.

That is the conclusion I would draw if I were asked to give up more and more of my privacy, and put more and more of my medical information into an online system that has no checks and balances and a vulnerable firewall, only to see it manipulated to favor my competition, with no way to recoup my "moment" or my monetary losses.

Anti-doping will never be perfect, but it could be better with independent, critical thinking applied by executives who aren't mired in conflicts of interest and the archaic courtesies of the bowler-hat era of amateur sport. There's no better illustration of that than the entrenched and until now unchallenged practice of putting host countries in charge of their own Olympic doping labs, under the purported oversight of the IOC. The Sochi lab was efficiently corrupt in pursuit of its goal. Rio's operation was dysfunctional in a completely different way, as budget cuts, understaffing and lack of experience resulted in massive testing deficiencies in the run-up and on the ground.

Who couldn't see that coming, in a country that only formed its anti-doping agency after winning the Games bid, from a lab suspended multiple times over the previous four years? Leaving the most crucial element of competitive integrity in the very hands of the people most driven to protect the image of the competition is insanity defined.

The same should be said about the overlap in leadership and voting membership between WADA and the IOC and its international sport federations. Yes, it would be a challenge to find competent people with no vested interest to run anti-doping, a specialized field that demands scientific, medical, ethical and sporting expertise. But unless the IOC can recognize that it has to shell out money for this purpose while ceding control, the credibility of its flagship event will continue to erode.

We may want that event to divert us, to be an island apart, but the waves of money that have flowed into the big muddy delta of Olympic sport for the past four decades have swamped that notion. International competition can reflect many admirable things, but it's not an escape from human frailty and greed. It holds a mirror up to those qualities, too. And the bureaucracies surfing the borderless Olympic industry need to look straight at it.