After years and years of alleged state-sponsored doping, an infamous hole in a wall, an Oscar-winning documentary, a man hiding in witness protection and denial after denial it all comes down to this.
Russia’s reputation as a serial cheater and its status as an Olympic team will go on trial next week – and an Aussie will decide its fate.
Mark Williams, a Sydney man who loves rowing, the outdoors and was an investor and director of iconic Aussie clothing company Drizabone, dramatically finds himself at the centre of the most important sitting of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), perhaps ever.
Williams, a NSW District Court judge, will sit on a three-man panel asked by the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) to ban Russia’s name, flag and national anthem from next year’s Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing as it finally reaches the finish line of a six-year investigation.
But he is by far the most important of the three.
Each side was able to pick one judge on the panel and those two judges picked a third.
WADA’s selection was Luigi Fumagalli, an Italian who led a CAS panel which rubbed 67 Russian track and field athletes out of the 2016 Olympics.
Russia countered that by picking dual France-Iran national Hamid Ghavari, who had overseen cases that overturned 28 disqualifications of Russian athletes by the International Olympic Committee from the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.
In the middle sits Williams, who has ruled on athlete selection disputes for Australia’s Olympic teams and appeared often in the CAS.
This week they will start hearing four days of evidence and testimony in Lausanne, Switzerland, about a manipulated database from a Moscow testing laboratory that’s at the centre of the latest allegations of Russia’s blatant cheating.
HOW WE GOT HERE
The first time doping officials got serious about investigating Russia came in 2014 after a German broadcaster released the 60-minute documentary Secret Doping Dossier: How Russia produces its Winners.
In the film, husband-and-wife whistleblowers Vitaly and Yuliya Stepanov exposed a systematic state-sponsored doping program.
Vitaly, a former employee of Russia’s anti-doping agency, and Yuliya, a middle-distance runner, said athletes were expected to dope.
“You cannot achieve your goals without doping. You have to dope, that’s how it is in Russia,” Vitaly said.
“Athletes do not think when they are taking banned drugs they are doing something illegal,” his wife added.
“They take any girl, feed her pills and then she runs. Tomorrow, she will be suspended and they will say ‘We’ll find a new one’.”
Former discus thrower Yevgeniya Pecherina also appeared, claiming “99 per cent” of the national team was doping.
It finally forced WADA’s hand. It launched an investigation which exposed evidence including steroid cocktails, orders to hide doping cases, and state agents helping to swap athlete samples through a hole in a wall at the 2014 Sochi Olympic testing laboratory.
That laboratory – and another in Moscow – were run by scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, a man who was meant to help lead Russia’s fight against doping but instead led the cover-up.
In another significant step forward against Russia’s rorting of the system, Rodchenkov turned turncoat in 2017 by spilling the beans in an Oscar-winning Netflix documentary named Icarus.
For the first time someone from the inside was exposing how Russia had intentionally cheated in the Olympics — and president Vladimir Putin was well-aware of illegal doping practices.
Rodchenkov admitted to switching steroid-tainted urine with clean samples to help Russian athletes avoid detection in Sochi.
The bombshells were met with fury in Russia. Olympic official Leonid Tyagachev said Rodchenkov “should be shot for lying, like Stalin would have done” and he fled to the United States — where he remains in protective custody — after two of his comrades died in suspicious circumstances after Icarus’ release.
Russia took steps in an attempt to clear its name, firing officials and opening its doors to WADA to prove Rodchenkov’s claims were lies.
A ban that had been in place since 2015 was lifted in 2018, but part of the conditions included Russia turning over the database and stored samples from the Moscow lab to provide closure and lift the suspicion surrounding many current athletes.
But what finally arrived was an “insult to the sporting movement worldwide”, the IOC said.
It was discovered over 20,000 files and folders were deleted from the Moscow Laboratory server and other data altered in what WADA alleged was a malicious attempt by Russian authorities to pin everything on Rodchenkov.
Despite Russia’s claims the databases must have been illicitly edited from abroad, WADA enforced a fresh ban of four years in December last year.
It will now rely on CAS – and Australia’s Williams – upholding that decision.
TIMELINE OF RUSSIA’S DECEPTION
December 3, 2014 — German documentary How Russia Makes its Winners is released, alleging the existence of state-sponsored doping.
December 10, 2014 — WADA launches official investigation into the documentary’s allegations.
December 11, 2014 — After he was told WADA staff had applied for visas to Russia, Dr Grigory Rodchenkov discarded and swapped Russian athlete samples.
November 17, 2015 — Rodchenkov fled Russia for the United States.
November 18, 2015 — The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was declared “non-compliant” by WADA.
July 18, 2016 — Part one of the McLaren Report is released
July 21, 2016 — The Investigative Committee entered the Moscow Laboratory to secure evidence. In the following days, a vast number of files were deleted from 12 computers and the Imaged Primary Disk.
December 9, 2016 — Part two of the McLaren Report is released
January 20, 2017 — Oscar-winning documentary Icarus is released, detailing Rodchenkov’s confession and escape from Russia.
September 13, 2018 — Minister Kolobkov publicly acknowledged “a number of individuals within the Ministry of Sport” were involved in the manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia.
January 9, 2019 — 19,982 files and folders from 2008-2011 were deleted from the Moscow Laboratory server, computer instruments and recycle bins. Other data indicative of doping was manipulated and or deleted. WADA arrived in Moscow to obtain a forensic copy of the Moscow Data, but did not enter the laboratory.
January 11, 2019 — WADA commenced forensically imaging of the Moscow Data. Minister of Sport of the Russian Federation personally ensured WADA only investigated the fabricated, modified and deleted data.
November 20, 2019 — after months of deliberations and hidden meetings, WADA’s Intelligence and Investigations Department published a final report to the Compliance Review Committee (CRC).
December 10, 2019 — WADA suspend Russia from all major sporting events for four years. Russia appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
November, 2020 – CAS hearing to begin.