NEW YORK — After Russia’s widespread violations at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, new World Anti-Doping Agency director general Olivier Niggli says an expanding investigations staff will be on the lookout for state-sponsored cheating in other nations.
“It has happened in one country. I think it would be naive to think it’s the only country,” he said Thursday during an interview at The Associated Press. “We have to have our eyes really open and also make sure we act on intelligence and information we might get.”
A report commissioned for WADA found state-directed manipulation of drug-testing results at the Moscow anti-doping lab from at least 2011 through the summer of 2013 and said Russia’s Ministry of Sport advised the laboratory which findings to cover up.
More than 100 Russian athletes, including all but one member of the track and field team, were banned from this year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Niggli, a 46-year-old Swiss lawyer who replaced David Howman on July 1, said WADA will have conversations with FIFA about testing at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
“It’s still sufficiently far away to hope that things will have changed and improved in Russia,” Niggli said. “It’s very important that we be able to work with the Russians to try to set up a system that is called compliant and that will provide some safeguards so that everybody regains confidence in what is going on there.”
Since the manipulation of Russian drug tests became public, the sample bottle used to collect urine has been improved. The IOC also has proposed that WADA take responsibility for drug testing across sports or establish an affiliate agency to do so.
Niggli rejected a suggestion by Russian Vladimir Putin that athletes with therapeutic use exemptions be excluded from major competitions.
“I don’t think it’s meaningful. I think every human being has a right of being treated for medical conditions,” he said.
Niggli was hired as WADA’s legal director in 2002, added the title of finance director two years later, then left for a law firm in 2011. He returned to WADA two years ago as chief operating officer.
He said WADA accepts the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision to cut the suspension of Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova from two years to 15 months. A winner of all four Grand Slam tournaments, Sharapova tested positive for the heart drug meldonium, added to the banned list this year.
“It was slightly surprising that at that level she wouldn’t get warned properly by her entourage,” he said.
WADA was set up by the IOC in 1999 and has a $30 million budget for next year. It already has doubled the size of its unit that scrutinizes possible violations, hiring former Interpol agent Guenter Younger as its new director of intelligence and investigations. Four additional employees likely will be added to the unit by next year.
“Whistle-blower is another obviously important thing,” Niggli said. “Even if we have an investigation department, we’re not the police, we’re not law enforcement. We have no legal means of compelling people to talk to us. It’s only if people want to bring us information that I will get it.”
WADA believes maintaining biological passports for all athletes subject to testing will increase obstacles to doping. The passports establish baseline levels for each athlete, used for comparing with testing results.
“Makes it a lot more complicated for a chemist to get an edge,” Niggli said. “You would see variations which would be totally abnormal there and would trigger some reaction.”
He praised Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NHL for their anti-doping programs, which are subject to labor laws and negotiated with their unions. Among the major U.S. professional leagues, there is one WADA is not working with.
“We don’t have too much relationship at the moment with the NBA,” he said.