An international sports-doping bill—the first of its kind criminalizing sports doping for international competitions—named the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act was introduced in the US House of Representatives on June 12. The subject matter is highly relevant because sports doping is an important international problem with geopolitical implications. The name is disconcerting, however, because Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov has admitted to being one of the biggest enablers of sports doping in history. Why, then, would the US Congress consider honoring him?
Perhaps the main reason for this development is the influence of The New York Times. Congressional representatives, like so many, have been exposed to continuing and distorted Times coverage on this subject. That coverage has now been exposed as selective by two lengthy opinions of the respected Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that were published on April 23, 2018, and, not coincidentally, that received only minimal coverage by the Times. What distinguished these CAS opinions is that, for the first time, in the CAS hearings Rodchenkov was confronted by his accusers with cross-examination. The results of that cross-examination tell a very different story from that related by the Times in the past two years.
Publication by The New York Times of an unverified front-page interview based on a highly questionable informant is a formula for trouble, which is an apt word to describe the May 13, 2016, article—“An Insider in Sochi Tells How Russia Beat Doping Tests”—on alleged Russian state-sponsored doping. Exacerbating the problem was the companion lead article in the sports section with a headline worthy of the National Enquirer: “Russia’s Open Secret Is Whispered No More.” The trouble became apparent almost two years later, with the publication of the CAS opinions mentioned above and the scant coverage of those opinions by the Times. This combination of distorted coverage and lack of coverage have had significant athletic and geopolitical repercussions: detracting from the Rio and PyeongChang Olympic Games and demonizing one country, Russia, for what is in fact an international doping problem. The result is an impediment to the solution of that doping problem and a worsening of the new cold-war atmosphere that now permeates relations between the West and Russia.
Such is the power of the Times that it generated worldwide headlines out of something that had been reported six months before its front-page, multi-column lead article. In November 2015, a three-person so-called Independent Commission (IC) appointed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) concluded, relying in part on witnesses who demanded anonymity, that there had been systematic doping involving Russian Olympic and Paralympic athletes. No ban of Russia resulted from the IC Report.
According to the IC Report, at the center of the story was the then–director of the Russian anti-doping laboratory, Rodchenkov, who the IC found was “at the heart of the positive drug test cover-up.” The IC Report made some statements about him that would give any reasonable person pause about his reliability as a witness, including “The IC finds that that Dir. Rodchenkov’s statements regarding the destruction of the [1417 urine] samples are not credible” and “Director Rodchenkov was also an integral part of the conspiracy to extort money from athletes in order to cover up positive doping test results.” The Times article states that Rodchenkov denies extortion, despite evidence to the contrary that at least two Russian athletes gave to the IC.