Olympic theater: Life & death on a streetcar named WADA

© Christinne Muschi
Sport is the most dramatic form of theater, and it had one of its finest days in Glasgow last weekend. What comes next will write the script for 2017 and beyond.

Hyperbole is evident when sport and theater are used in the one sentence. Old Trafford in Manchester is the “Theater of Dreams.” A tennis match can be called “compelling theater.” Soccer players are prone to “theatrical dives,” and so on. Unfortunately, the sport and theater combination is very appropriate when we touch upon the topic of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

This past Sunday they treated us to a farce as theatrical as any we’ve seen in the sorry saga of WADA and Russia. John Cleese in his pomp would not have dreamed up of a scenario where a pair of ‘leaders’ are caught on a hot mic discussing how they’ll play the media. Watching this unfold I remembered Basil Fawlty telling Manuel to say “I know nothing.” There was Olivier Niggli, WADA’s Vice-President, caught on a Russia Today ‘hot mic’ telling his Boss, “Don’t be too positive.” And duly Craig Reedie stuck to the script, to the chagrin of Russians he’d been praising for their work in cleaning up the sorry mess left from decades of neglect.

Niggli was lambasted by Russian media and Ms. Zakharova of the Foreign Ministry for being too negative on Russia. By non-Russian talking-heads, he was battered for being too soft on Russia. Unlike the keyboard warriors and trolls, neither he, his Boss nor their colleagues are omnipotent. And he and his agency are entirely dependent on keeping all sides happy in a “life or death fight” for WADA’s existence.

While 'Streetcar Named Desire' is classed as American Gothic, though if it were remade into a farce, WADA would be center stage. Cast in the role of Blanche DuBois, a flawed, damaged entity with a less than firm grip on reality, WADA is doomed. And the world of sport playing Stanley Kowalski, a brutish, corrupt and less than human animal, doesn’t need questions or controls. My view was confirmed by a three-minute phone call I had on Sunday night with a contact working within the Canada-based agency.

“Of course we can’t go all out in any case. We’ve the McLaren report coming out, labs under scrutiny all over the place and one wrong word and we’re finished. This is a life or death fight.”

I asked to clarify “life and death fight.” They responded: “The Olympic Committee (IOC), governments, even national organizations (NADOs) who want to take over. It’s a mess.”

Therein lies the crux. WADA has to be seen to be tough and uncompromising, yet it has to play politics and keep the PR spin, well, spinning. Niggli did nothing unusual, as any of us who have worked in this industry will know. This was not meant to be overheard. He needed to keep pretending they’re not desperate to have Russia back in the fold when a deal has already been done. They sinned by letting out one of the worst kept secrets in sport – that Russia does matter and geopolitics did play a significant role in this. WADA just couldn’t say so openly. They don’t want the real truth to impinge on their version of it.

Blanche/WADA don’t want realism. They want magic. They try to give this to people, and they do misrepresent things. They don’t tell truths, they say what ought to be the truth, depending on the audience. Why? Because if they don’t, they lose everything. And given the salaries and perks they have, hanging onto them by all means possible is entirely justified, in their minds. To hell with justice, hypocrisy and clean sport, falling off the gravy train leaves a much deeper bruise to the bank balance and ego.

Taking a hard line on Russia involves WADA making statements they know will come back to bite them. To have Russia admit guilt for “state-sponsored doping” is dangerous. They will have to level the same at Kazakhstan, India, Ireland, Australia, Great Britain or any other country where the majority of athletes depend almost solely on government funds to compete. And it is a fact. If the government grants an athlete X amount and the athlete, to compete at the highest level, feels they need to use performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) then the government has sponsored it. It is a simple fact and can equally be placed on Puma, Nike, Adidas, Sky or any other “sponsor” who give funds to athletes using PEDs.

When it suits, the world of sport, like Stanley, will blacken WADA’s name. The same we saw happen with the IOC, IPC, FIFA and any other sports organization that falls afoul of the brutish media mob. And Stanley will be right, in a sense. They’ve messed around with some shady characters, appear to prostitute themselves to stay in business and are certainly not what they proclaim to be. WADA was never about stopping doping in sports. WADA is not about protecting the rights of clean athletes. WADA is a business that wants to stay in business. It creates the truth that is convenient and spins the yarns to keep their “investors” happy. And a large investor in this is Russia. However being positive about Russia in the face of a baying mob will unsettle their other stakeholders and already creatures are moving to get rid of WADA altogether.

It really is a ‘life or death fight’ for them.

You see, WADA cannot survive without the largesse of the IOC (who contribute half its budget) and national governments (who give the other half). WADA is slowly being rendered useless and irrelevant by many sports who treat their protocols with disdain. The world of sports, in true Stanley form, insinuates, blackens and brutalizes WADA whenever they try to claim a victory or progress. Why? Because sports don’t need such nonsense to grow and, survive. Sponsors, too, don’t care as long as their investments are returned. Governments don’t need the WADA headache, they just need medals and reasons for photo-ops. Nobody wants WADA, and they are coming to the end of the line.

By announcing the McLaren report will be delivered in London on December 9th, Blanche has effectively pandered to Stanley. They’ll pretend to be neutral. Pretend to be impartial and doing what they’re doing for the good of the sport and health of athletes. It is all theater and optics. It is PR and words when it should be deeds and results. Because if WADA continue to play all sides against the middle, they will soon find themselves removed from the dysfunctional sports family and a new agency opened. Like Blanche, WADA has always depended on the kindness of strangers. It’s a life and death struggle on the streetcar named WADA.

Alan Moore, for RT.

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