Dozens of athletes, a key whistleblower and even a leader within the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) own ranks slammed that organization on Tuesday as it headed toward a decision that could end the nearly three-year suspension of Russia's anti-doping agency (RUSADA).
On an extraordinary day of coordinated protests from across the globe, the most surprising voice in the chorus belonged to WADA vice president Linda Helleland, one of 12 members of the executive committee that will decide RUSADA's fate at a meeting Thursday in Seychelles.
She said she will not vote to reinstate.
"If you choose to reinstate Russia, you defy the very wish of the Athletes' Committees around the world, who have very clearly stated that they will not accept a reinstatement now," said Helleland, who is expected to run to replace Craig Reedie as WADA president when his term expires next year. "This moment will forever define the credibility of WADA as the independent and strong front runner for clean sport. I am afraid that by opting for the easiest way out, it will ultimately hurt WADA in the future."
Athletes, whose voices over the four-year life cycle of this scandal are often diffused and drowned out, spoke up in unity for the second straight day Tuesday.
Members of athlete committees from WADA and the U.S. Olympic Committee were joined by a group of international anti-doping leaders, as well as whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, the former Moscow lab director whose information helped uncover a doping scheme designed to help Russia win medals at the Sochi Olympics.
In a statement provided to The Associated Press, Rodchenkov portrayed WADA's sudden shifting of its requirements to end RUSADA's suspension as a result of Russia's unwillingness to accept findings from investigator Richard McLaren, who detailed a government-sponsored doping program designed to win medals.
WADA is now accepting Russia's willingness to agree instead with a report commissioned by the IOC that doesn't focus as heavily on the government's role in the cheating.
"Russia continuously denies McLaren's findings for the pure purpose of protecting their top-level apparatchiks who destroyed the Olympic Games in Sochi," Rodchenkov said. "Russian political and sport bosses are there only to save themselves, and in doing so, they betray Russian athletes and sports lovers, and destroy the future of Russian sport."
Jim Swartz, a Rodchenkov backer who is founder of clean-sports foundation FairSport, said, "WADA has undermined its own moral and regulatory authority" by proposing a weakened version of the road map to bring RUSADA back into compliance.
The WADA athletes' group is led by Beckie Scott, who resigned from her position on WADA's compliance review committee last week after it made the surprising recommendation to reinstate RUSADA.
"As athletes, we have to follow the rules every single day," that group's statement read, "and we expect the same from all anti-doping organizations and stakeholders."
More than three dozen U.S. athletes wrote a letter to Reedie that said, in part: "By acting on promises, and not proven compliance, WADA's decision on reinstating RUSADA would weaken the increasingly delicate integrity of international sport."
Under WADA's revamped road map, Russia would not hand over a trove of data and samples that could corroborate positive tests until a still-unspecified date that would come after RUSADA's reinstatement. The original road map called for the information to be transferred before reinstatement. WADA's review committee has urged the executive committee to set a date for the transfer before declaring RUSADA compliant.
The USOC's new CEO, Sarah Hirshland, said any agreement that falls short of giving athletes security that they're on a level playing field "will not only be a huge disappointment to the USOC and American athletes, but to the entire Olympic and Paralympic movements."
WADA has defended its decision, saying nuanced changes in the requirements were appropriate to avoid squandering the significant progress RUSADA has made over the past three years.
"That outcome was never going to be achieved without small degrees of movement on both sides," WADA said in a statement over the weekend.
But anti-doping leaders from 13 countries, including the United States, Britain, Canada and Poland, joined the athletes and others in protest. They said WADA's changes were akin to moving the goalposts.
"The Roadmap has changed," their statement said. "This is quite simply unacceptable and will not restore confidence in global sport at a time when athletes and sports fans need it most."