After doping scandals, Russia touts reformed testing agency

Russia’s Minister of Sport Pavel Kolobkov speaks at the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) symposium in Ecublens, Switzerland on March 13. (Reuters)
Updated 19 August 2017
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After doping scandals, Russia touts reformed testing agency

MOSCOW: After almost two years under suspension, the Russian anti-doping agency wants to show it is capable of cleaning up a tainted sports scene.
The agency, known as RUSADA, boasts of anti-corruption training and a newfound respect for whistleblowers — a group vilified by top Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin.
Senior staff talk of “the new RUSADA,” eager to distance their organization from one that was effectively shut down by the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2015 over allegations that key staff were covering up for doping athletes rather than exposing them.
Even as Russia came under pressure for what WADA called a vast doping system which corrupted the 2014 Winter Olympics, the number of tests carried out in the country plunged. All samples had to be collected by foreign-based organizations and sent abroad for processing, reducing the scrutiny on many Russian athletes.
In June, WADA gave RUSADA the power to test athletes again, and both organizations are under pressure to ensure Russia can catch its own drug cheats.
“RUSADA is a totally new organization,” acting CEO Tatyana Chirkina said this week. “RUSADA has very extensively changed its staff, set up a new supervisory board with a chair, and changed its founding documents. A lot of work has been done.”
The agency has not formally been reinstated by the World Anti-Doping Agency — and won’t be unless Russia’s government admits at least some level of culpability in past doping cover-ups.
Still, it’s functioning largely on its own, though must provide information constantly to officials from WADA and the British anti-doping agency, which is tasked with helping the reforms.
Crucially, Chirkina said RUSADA has established an investigations unit of “up to 10 people” focused on following up on tipoffs about drug use.
Whistleblowers are often viewed with suspicion by Russian athletes, and Putin has likened them to Soviet citizens who denounced others to the secret police during Joseph Stalin’s purges in the 1930s.
Nevertheless, Chirkina said the investigations unit is working on “many” leads and will soon launch an anonymous messaging service to make it easier for athletes to provide information.
The 40 new officials hired by RUSADA to test athletes have been trained to resist pressure to bend the rules or the urge to be star-struck in the presence of national sports heroes. The aim is to ensure testing remains rigorous, with no special measures for big names.
Investigations by WADA previously found some RUSADA staff had given athletes advance notice of supposedly surprise tests.
Margarita Pakhnotskaya, who oversees RUSADA’s education programs and liaises with WADA, said the aim to create “a new mentality ... allowing (testers) not just to avoid being scared to act in a certain way, but to train their communication skills, so that they feel calm and confident with any athlete, however great or well-known.”
Despite Chirkina and Pakhnotskaya’s enthusiasm, many details of exactly how the new RUSADA will function are unclear. Full reinstatement from WADA is also in the balance after WADA insisted the Russian Sports Ministry would have to admit complicity in past cover-ups.
Chirkina refused to say how many doping samples will be collected in Russia this year, saying only that it will be more than last year but still well below the 12,500 collected by RUSADA in 2014, when many positive tests were allegedly being buried.
“It will increase each year,” she said.
It’s also unclear when a new permanent CEO will be appointed, the first since December 2015, though Chirkina said it will be soon.
Even if RUSADA is reinstated, Russia has battles to fight on other fronts. Moscow’s drug-testing laboratory — a separate organization from RUSADA — is far from ready to be reinstated after its former director said he covered up doping by Russian stars over several years. That means RUSADA must still send samples abroad for testing.
Besides that, the International Olympic Committee has set up two commissions looking into past Russian doping, and the country’s participation in next year’s Winter Olympics is not yet confirmed.


Saudi Arabia step up their World Cup preparations by flying to Switzerland for training camp

Updated 20 May 2018
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Saudi Arabia step up their World Cup preparations by flying to Switzerland for training camp

  • Squad of 28 to be based in Zurich
  • Friendlies on the horizon against Italy and Peru

Juan Antonio Pizzi has taken a 28-man squad to Zurich for the final stage of the Green Falcons’ World Cup preparations.
The party flew out of Jeddah late last night and landed in Switzerland early this morning. There they will be joined by Fahad Al-Muwallad and Salem Al-Dawsari who will fly in from Spain after playing for Levante and Villarreal on Saturday night.
The three-week training camp in the Swiss resort town of Bad Ragaz gives Pizzi the chance to get stuck into some intense tactical and physical work with his players and decide which five players to leave out of his squad. He must whittle down his list down to 23 by June 4, which gives the players get two final chances to stake their claim for a seat on the plane in friendlies against Italy on May 28 and Peru on June 3. By the time they play Germany in Leverkusen on June 8, Pizzi will have named his party for the assignment in Russia.
Pizzi is clearly much nearer knowing who he will take as he has only made minor changes to the squad he named for the recent wins against Greece and Algeria.
Al-Ittihad goalkeeper Assaf Al-Qarni replaces his club teammate Fawaz Al-Qarni as the fourth stopper in the squad, as Pizzi looks settled on retaining Al-Ahli duo Yasser Al-Mosaileem and Mohammed Al-Owais in addition to Al-Hilal’s Abdullah Al-Mayouf. One of those four will fail to make the cut as no team takes four goalkeepers to the World Cup.
There were no changes in the backline where the former Chile boss is opting for harmony. Eight of the nine defenders called up ply their trade at Al-Hilal or Al-Ahli, while Al-Nassr’s Omar Hawsawi rounds off the selection. One defender might have to make way and Al-Hilal teammates Mohammad Jahfali and Ali Al-Bulayhi could well find themselves vying for one spot on the plane to Moscow.
Abdullah Otayf and Taisir Al-Jassim look to be firm favorites to make the starting XI in the base of midfield, while the third central spot is up for grabs. Hussein Al-Moqahwi has regularly featured in that position, but Salman Al-Faraj’s return from a long injury saw him start both friendlies in the Spain training camp. Abdulmalik Al-Khaibari could emerge as the more conservative midfield enforcer against stronger sides.
The center of the pitch is where the most intense battle of positions will take place. As many as three midfielders could be left behind come June 4. Ibrahim Ghaleb has already been left out and he may be joined by Al-Shabab duo Hattan Bahebri and Abdulla Al-Khaibari. One of Mohammad Kanno and Mohammed Al Kuwaikbi could be the last man to be dropped in two weeks’ time.
Up front, Harun Kamara, a surprise call-up for the recent friendlies, failed to retain his spot in the squad so Mohannad Assiri and Mohammed Al-Sahlawi will battle it out for the sole striker position.

Squad
Goalkeepers: Mohammed Al-Owais, Yasser Al-Mosaileem (Al-Ahli); Abdullah Al-Mayouf (Al-Hilal); Assaf Al-Qarni (Al-Ittihad)
Defenders: Motaz Hawsawi, Saeed Al-Muwallad, Mansour Al-Harbi (Al-Ahli); Osama Hawsawi, Mohammed Jahfali, Ali Al-Bulayhi, Mohammed Al-Burayk, Yasser Al-Shahrani (Al-Hilal); Omar Hawsawi (Al-Nassr).
Midfielders: Abdullah Al-Khaibari, Hattan Bahebri (Al-Shabab); Abdulmalik Al-Khaibari, Abdulla Otayf, Salman Al-Faraj, Mohammed Kanno, Nawaf Al-Abid (Al-Hilal); Taisir Al-Jassim, Hussein Al-Moqahwi (Al-Ahli); Mohammed Al-Kuwaikbi (Al-Ettifaq); Salem Al-Dawsari (Villarreal); Fahad Al-Muwallad (Levante); Yahya Al-Shehri (Leganes)
Forwards: Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr); Mohannad Assiri (Al-Ahli)