In what will surely become a massive scandal for the sports world, a hacktivist group has revealed that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which receives $2 million annually from US taxpayers, allowed US athletes to take banned substances without consequence while prohibiting Russian athletes from participating in the Olympics and Paralympics for allegedly using the same substances. The hacktivist group, Fancy Bear, claim to be a branch of the Anonymous hacking collective while WADA was quick to label them as a “Russian cyber espionage group.” The Russian government has denied involvement and Fancy Bear denies any connection to the Russian government. According to the leaks, several high-profile US athletes have been taking banned substances for some time, including gymnast Simone Biles and tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. According to Fancy Bear, these leaks are just the “tip of the iceberg.”
Simone Biles tested positive in August 2016 for illicit methylphenidate, a psychostimulant that is banned internationally for professional athletes, as well as amphetamines. Upon testing positive, WADA issued Biles a certificate for therapeutic use, essentially legalizing doping in her specific case. Mariela Sirakova of the International Gymnastics Federation authorized the certificate. However, according to the documents, no diagnosis for the drugs’ therapeutic use was provided and was instead marked “confidential,” weakening Biles’ claim that the authorization was due to her diagnosis of ADHD. Under what circumstances would such a common diagnosis be considered confidential?
Serena Williams, currently the world’s top tennis player, is taking oxycodone and hydromorphone, both of which are opioids, as well as prednisone, prednisolone, and methylprednisolone. All of these are considered banned substances. Her sister Venus has also been taking banned substances including triamcinolone, formoterol, prednisolone, and prednisone. Both sisters also had their doping legalized by WADA with each certificate being approved by Stuart Miller of the International Tennis Federation. The diagnosis that supposedly justifies the use of these banned substances is also listed as confidential. The Williams sisters have not issued an official response following the leaks at the time of this article’s publication. Elena Delle Donne, a US basketball star, was also shown to be taking amphetamines and hydrocortisone. She claimed the hydrocortisone was for pain related to a recent surgery, but that would not explain her use of amphetamines.
Before the 2016 Rio Olympics, WADA was very concerned by the use of these same drugs that were allegedly used by some Russian athletes. WADA led an investigation of doping within Russia which ultimately led to a ban of 1/3 of the Russian Olympic team and all of the Russian paralympic (disabled or terminally ill) athletes.
Though only a handful of Russian athletes were implicated, WADA accused Russia of “state-sponsored” doping which led them to recommend an unprecedented blanket ban on all athletes, preventing many clean athletes from competing. Some clean athletes, such as Russian long jumper Daria Klishina, were banned the day after they arrived in Rio to compete. In addition, an anti-Russian sentiment was on full display when Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova was booed by crowds at the Olympics, causing her to tear up on more than one occasion. Other Russian athletes were also booed while competing, including athletes never accused of doping, causing the media to speculate about an “Olympic Cold War.” However, as the leaks reveal, it’s not the use of the banned drugs that matter to WADA as much as the athletes’ nationality.
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