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14 Sep, 2016 00:00

'Hackers revealing US Olympians taking banned substances performed public service'

Greater transparency into the testing of banned substances is needed so as to understand whether the system is impartial against some competing athletes and their nations, independent writer Rick Sterling told RT.

A hactivist group released files claiming that top US athletes were granted permission from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to take banned substances. However, the US anti-doping agency, sports federations and athletes have denied any wrongdoing.

The allegations were published on the website of the hacktivist group Fancy Bear, which called the revelations “just the tip of the iceberg.”

WADA has released a statement condemning the cyber attack. It said, without further elaboration, that the intrusion was conducted by a "Russian hacker team" and that it is taking the attack “very seriously.”

RT: If the leaks are true, how fair is it that some athletes are… let’s put is simply – allowed to use banned medicine and others are not?

Rick Sterling: The therapeutic use exemption is, I think, valid and it’s well-established. I looked at the leaked documents and they actually don’t show the therapeutic use exemption for Simone Biles. Perhaps, she does have that. But it does call into question when this therapeutic use exemption is given, under what circumstances and whether it’s truly independent and impartially administered.

RT: America’s doping agency USADA was quick to react to the leak. It said: “Cyber-bullying of innocent athletes being engaged in by these hackers is cowardly and despicable. It’s time for the entire international community to stand up and condemn this cyber-attack on clean sport and athletes’ rights”. A very direct and strong accusation. Was it really bullying?

RS: I think it’s basically the hacking group Anonymous. And it’s not worthy that WADA right out of the gate accused Russian of being implicated in this and I see no evidence of that. In fact, the Anonymous group is more associated with the US, with anarchist hacking elements from North America than from ... [eastern] Europe. They came right out of the gates and have tried to implicate Russia which seems to be the continuation of WADA’s biased approach to this.

RT: It does seem that doping authorities don’t want to deal with what is in the leak rather how it got leaked. Is it the case that some of the sports personalities, and they are big names, and the businesses around them, the sponsorship deal, the trainers, it’s a huge business, are they simply too big to fail?

RS: That’s possible. Of course the commercialization of sport and the inversion of huge amounts of money into it has… one can’t ignore the possible influence of that. I think that one thing that hasn’t been frequently mentioned is that the World Olympians Association, which is the international body of world Olympic athletes, issued a three-point plan to get rid of doping and to protect clean athletes which has been largely ignored. That plan would have basically taken the national testing away from a national body and put it into international and independent hands rather than each nation being responsible for its own testing under WADA supervision. I think the World Olympians Association has a good idea to make it a lot less bias than it currently is.

RT: The information came out only a few hours ago. But from what you have seen in the documents, is there anything that really is a surprise to you?

RS: Simone Biles is being acclaimed as the greatest gymnast of all time ... [she] won gold medal, she is obviously an outstanding athlete, but is there a bias that she can take these drugs that obviously are central neural system drug[s], it basically helps an athlete to retain mental focus and also calm their nerves. You could say pretty easily that it might give a person an advantage in such intense sports as gymnastics. The problem is are the rules being impartially administered?

RT: If these medications are indeed prescribed to them which is possible shouldn’t they have made it public? What’s the secret in there?

RS: That’s a great point. In that sense, I think, the hacking has done a public service, because as you imply, if there’s nothing wrong with it, why shouldn’t it be public?

RT: The first thing that WADA did is pointed finger at Russia coming directly saying that it was Moscow. Was is the case of best deference is offence?

RS: That may be the case. Certainly WADA is coming under more scrutiny now, the McLaren report is coming under more scrutiny. Just ten days ago Forbes newspaper, which is a major Wall Street newspaper in the US, had an editorial saying that Russian complaints against the McLaren’s report have basis. And that the McLaren report violated due process. WADA is under more and more scrutiny and I think there’s validity to what you suggest there.

RT: I’m sure there’s a lot of athletes around the world checking their Internet feed, reading headline and thinking “Hold on! I was banned for doing something similar! And these huge stars are getting away with or are walking away from what they are doing taking similar drugs.” Will there be any investigation put in place or indeed bans applied? Or would it just aggravate the relations between WADA and Russia? Will that do for now?

RS: I think the World Olympians Association’s proposals should get a lot more consideration and there needs to be a real review of the McLaren report, how that was issued, the way WADA is acting. Obviously there’s tension and some amount of tension with International Olympic Committee, the role of the media, the role of big corporations, which are basically paying hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to some of the most elite athletes. There needs to be a lot more transparency and to that extent the release of those documents may be a public service.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.