Discussion: McLaren Report


Generally, I avoid making direct commentary on Russian affairs on this blog, but I’ll make an exception here and keep it short. I believe the McLaren report is deeply flawed and therefore unreliable. Here’s why:

  • The report relied on the testimony of a single person, former Director of Moscow Laboratory Grigori Rodchenkov, chief culprit in the positive drug test cover-up. While it’s possible that Rodchenkov’s is truthful, it’s also possible he’s lying or misleading to redirect responsibility away from himself. Rodchenkov has admitted his involvement in urine sample swapping, design of a steroid cocktail not easily traced – he was instrumental in helping some athletes cheat the system.
  • The report did not include a written submission and documents provided by a Russian authority. It also didn’t consider the counter-arguments of the Russian authorities. Mclaren says “The IP did not seek to interview persons living in the Russian Federation …. I did not seek to meet with Russian government officials and did not think it necessary.” Not necessary to speak with the Russian Ministry of Sport, which is accused of serious violations in the report? Even a faceless undergrad blogger like me understands it’s a basic standard of fairness to hear both sides of a controversy before reaching a conclusion.
  • It didn’t identify individual athletes who benefited from the alleged cover-up but instead casts suspicion on the entire team, despite having a specific mandate to “Identify any athlete that might have benefited from those alleged manipulations to conceal positive doping tests.” (p. 3)
  • It did not provide the source for quantitative measurements.

 

There are many faults with the report (and its implications) that I left out, but that’s the point of this post – to expose and discuss them.

Have at it, readers!

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11 comments

  1. Agree with the above.Mclaren claims he has more evidence which he will release in September. It is peculiar that he suddenly has more evidence that he couldn’t submit in this report yet asks everyone to accept what he is saying.
    Also peculiar is why he names his methodology at the beginning of the report. Why would a credible academic & international lawyer want to do this unless he was more interested in being famous rather than concentrating on what he was trying to establish.

    I don’t support doping. I don’t support blanket bans as I believe simplistic messages do not deter from problems that cause such incidents whether individual or otherwise.

    Either way and no one is going to get the truth from the current report, it is a huge opportunity for Russia to be a world leader in anti-doping infrastructure, I hope that WADA and media support rather than prevent this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Try this on for size:

      http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2016/08/19/russians-held-to-different-standards.html

      This recent news item doesn’t change the views expressed in the above piece, which was written beforehand –

      http://www.smh.com.au/sport/olympics/rio-2016/russia-stripped-of-2008-olympic-relay-gold-medal-for-doping-20160817-gquc2q.html

      Along with some other particulars, the timing of the release of the Russian women’s 4 X 100 2008 Summer Olympic disqualification, serves to reasonably question whether the IAAF and WADA have consistently applied standards in monitoring drug cheats.

      None of the numerous mass media pieces reviewed, address whether ALL participants in the 2008 Olympic women’s 4 X 100 were retested. Assuming that the retested positive drug test finding remains valid and that WADA/IAAF have been consistent in their retesting, I’ve no problem disqualifying the 2008 Russian Olympic 4 X 100 women’s relay team. Note that only one of the four women on that relay team tested positive. The athlete who has been charged has taken action to contest the claim against her.

      On a related front, the suspension of the Russian weight lifting team concerns a sport with rampant doping. (Seemingly more so than athletics.) The Russian weight lifting team’s receipt of Russian government funding doesn’t (without conclusive proof) necessarily mean a clandestine Kremlin approval for doping.

      Hence, the claim of a vast state sponsored doping regimen remains in considerable question.

      Like

  2. I’m just going to pick away at it and keep coming back, because there is a great deal of information to go through. For starters, I’d like to discuss some other sources which support the notion that this requires much closer scrutiny.

    First, Ken Perrot’s excellent discussion of the McLaren Report, at his blog, Open Parachute. Ken’s background is in scientific research, and he makes a number of interesting points.

    https://openparachute.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/34384/

    A graphic which appears in his discussion demonstrates using WADA data that doping in the Russian Federation in 2014 was only marginally worse than that recorded for the United States, about half what was recorded for France, and nearly identical to that recorded for Australia, while Belgium was the global badboy with at least four times the offenses recorded for Russia. But for its New York Times report, hard-hitting and influential, editors chose 2013 data, which made Russia look much, much worse. Here’s that article.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/10/sports/russian-athletes-part-of-state-sponsored-doping-program-report-finds.html?_r=0

    I don’t have any way of knowing how WADA compiles its statistics, but this graphic was plainly cherry-picked to inflame readers. To put that in context, you’ll need Ken Perrot’s other post, Quantifying the Problem of International Sports Doping”.

    https://openparachute.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/84-wada-sports-doping-stats-sorted-not-by-me-nina-kouprianova/

    That shows you that Russia’s higher number of positives likely results from Russia’s being tested more frequently than any other country except China. But when you resort the data as Nina Kouprianova did, by % positive, Russia is 19th in the world, after such western darlings as Norway, Poland, France and Sweden and just above Australia and Canada. This suggests the way the data are displayed is also being used to push the reader to a conclusion.

    To round it out, there was an excellent post by Rick Sterling, in Counterpunch.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/08/12/banning-paralympic-athletes-to-bash-russia/

    Rick’s article includes testimonials from Berlinger, the makers of the tamper-proof bottles, and they are not buying it. While they do not go so far as to say McLaren is full of shit, they do say,

    “Berlinger Special AG conducts its own regular reappraisals of its doping kits, and also has its products tested and verified by an independent institute that has been duly certificated by the Swiss authorities.

    * In neither its own tests nor any tests conducted by the independent institute in Switzerland has any sealed Berlinger Special AG urine sample bottle proved possible to open.

    * This also applies to the “Sochi 2014” sample bottle model.

    * The specialists at Berlinger Special AG are able at any time to determine whether one of the company’s sample bottles has been tampered with or unlawfully replicated.”

    Pushback is building. McLaren complains about the time constraint within which he had to produce his report, but he must have remarked the timing. It was plainly calculated so that the release of the report would inspire overwhelming support for a Russian Olympic ban just close enough to the Olympics opening that Russia would not be able to avert it. And why else did his report have to be released then? What difference would it make if he were still beavering away at it while the Olympics was ongoing, with Russia there as per normal? We learned in Marion Jones’ case that they can still take your medals away 7 years after the event, plus impose a legal penalty if you lied to investigators.

    There also seems to be an interesting power struggle developing between WADA and the IOC, with the former loudly yelling that the IOC is soft on Russia while the latter seems grimly determined to replace or reform WADA.

    We also see in Ken Perrot’s writing that McLaren has recently complained his report is being taken out of context and made to serve purposes for which it was never intended. He says,

    “The focus has been completely lost and the discussion is not about the Russian labs and Sochi Olympic Games, which was under the direction of the IOC.

    But what is going on is a hunt for people supposed to be doping but that was never part of my work, although it is starting to (become) so.’’

    My reporting on the state-based system has turned into a pursuit of individual athletes.’’

    If i were WADA, I would be sending Professor McLaren away on a long and remote vacation, to get him away from the press. His report was supposed to provide proof of a state-sponsored doping program in Russia, and he said it did. Here he says it was never about the Russian labs, but his star witness was the director of the Moscow Lab. And his sneaky work was all accomplished after midnight, naturally, when there were no witnesses. He does not want to name names because that will bring him into the gunsights of individual lawsuits. And the Russian state might well be very willing to bankroll those.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’d like to draw readers’ attention to another excellent and detailed post by Rick Sterling, this time at The Duran, which provides the timeline of events from the Sochi Olympics leading up to the Rio Olympics, of how WADA built up its case to try to disqualify Russia from competing in Rio:
    http://theduran.com/heres-russian-athletes-unfairly-banned-olympics/

    The timeline shows McLaren would have had about two months to research, interview various people and gather evidence, and then to write up his report and deliver it. He would have had to travel (to Russia among other places) to do the necessary work. How possible is it that he could have done all that he should have within a short time period? Then WADA hands the report to the IOC only a few weeks before the Olympic Games are due to start. That’s definitely fishy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The conundrum over the Berlinger bottles grows. In this article for the New York Times, Rodchenkov admits he has no idea how the sample bottles were opened and then resealed.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/14/sports/russia-doping-bottles-olympics-2014.html?_r=0

    But McLaren said publicly that he knew it had been done because someone demonstrated it for him. Who would that have been? Berlinger says it’s impossible, and the most likely candidate to have showed McLaren says he has no idea how it was done. McLaren says he observed marks and scratches on the inside of the cap, but you’d have to have the cap off to see those, and you probably made them yourself taking it off. Berlinger says the only way you can get them off is to use their special machine designed for the purpose, which cracks the cap in half and makes it obvious it has been opened. The Americans say they have no clue how it could be done. But somebody demonstrated it for McLaren. Who?

    Unless that was a lie. Without the bottles and swapping urine samples, the whole case falls apart. He says he has emails, but he won’t show them to anyone.

    Another thing – Rodchenkov is all alone in the lab, after midnight. He slips the bottles through a hole, and some guy who has never been identified (because presumably Rodchenkov never saw him, he’s on the other side of a wall) takes them away and gives him back bottles of clean pee from the athletes themselves, which they have stockpiled in plastic bottles. How does he know this? He doesn’t even know who the guy is who’s doing it! except he thinks he might be FSB.

    Look at the graphic in the Times article. Room 124 has a door in it. Why does he need to pass bottles through the wall? It’s supposed to be outside the secure area, but there’s an open corridor right there. How’s that secured? A guard? And he doesn’t notice some guy regularly coming out of an empty storage room, returning two hours later and going back in again? If there’s no guard, why all the hole-in-the-wall stuff? Why not just walk next door and hand him the bottle? Comes to that, if Rodchenkov is masterminding the state doping program he claims to have so much knowledge of, why isn’t he just switching the samples himself? Oh, right; because he doesn’t know how to get the bottles open. But somebody he can’t identify, because he never saw him, does. Some guy who then had to walk the whole length of the first floor to leave the building, and again when he came back with the clean pee.

    Is there…uhhh….anything you’d…like to tell us, Professor McLaren?

    Like

  5. Okay, here’s further elaboration. According to yet another Times article – they really hyped this case hard – Rodchenkov was actually in the room with this guy, who he assumed to be a Russian intelligence officer. Because he had a badge that said “Russian Intelligence” on his jacket, or something. Or Rodchenkov used to be Russian intelligence himself, and knows the type. Anyway. So it’s a colleague of Rodchenkov’s who is passing the sample bottles through a hole in the wall, and Rodchenkov takes the bottle and hands it to the guy. He goes away to a nearby building, and returns in a couple of hours with the bottle opened and the cap undamaged. Then Rodchenkov and his colleague (who is not named; I wonder why?) clean the bottle with filter paper and refill it with clean pee which they have in storage. Right there on the premises, evidently. So…uhh.. who inspected this place? Were there no western officials there, who might notice soda bottles of piss with the athlete’s name on it in the refrigerator?

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/05/13/sports/russia-doping-sochi-olympics-2014.html

    Oh, oh – I see a problem. See, they supposedly collected clean pee in abundance from the chosen cheater athletes months before the games. But pee doesn’t keep that long unless you freeze it.

    According to NCCLS (National Committee on Clinical Laboratory Standards; they changed their name in 2005 to the Clinical Laboratory Standards Institute) standards, testing within 2 hours of collection is recommended. Unless you’re going to add a preservative such as boric acid (which presumably would be detected), the envelope maxes out at 72 hours. We know the samples from various Olympics have been preserved by freezing, but a soda bottle of piss in the freezer would look a little suspicious, don’t you think? Not to mention the difficulty of shoehorning frozen piss into one of those little sample bottles at 2:00 AM.

    http://www.bd.com/vacutainer/labnotes/Volume14Number2/

    And that’s another thing – didn’t anyone notice that Rodchenkov stayed there all night every night? After he had already been fingered for doping-related skullduggery and his sister had gone to jail for peddling drugs to athletes? Let’s not forget that WADA knew of the suspicions against him years before Sochi, because Vitaly Stepanov had been feeding them secrets for a long time, years. Yet they declined to do anything, then steered the Stepanovs to a German TV journalist, then pounced on the resulting documentary as a reason to start the investigation? Is any of this making sense?

    And then, after all that painstaking double-blind secrecy, the Russians blew it by keeping a database from which spreadsheet (which outlined the government’s doping plan, they sure were confident they wouldn’t get caught) the investigators were able to determine 33 medals were won by Russian cheaters.

    Uh huh.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. According to the report, a Marks & Scratches expert managed to open the Berlinger bottle without breaking the cap. He displayed for McLaren that he had left tiny scratches on the inside of the cap which indicated it had been opened, but told him they would only be visible through a microscope, Additionally, he correctly identified a bottle which had not been tampered with.

    I would imagine that in order to make marks and scratches on the inside of the cap, he had to open the bottle

    Berlinger says; “The BEREG-KIT® guarantees complete security from sample collection right through to analysis in the laboratory. Thanks to its unique security closure, the content is reliably protected from tampering immediately after the KIT is sealed. The bottles are either destroyed or retain visible traces of tampering if any unauthorised attempt is made to open them. ”

    http://www.berlinger.com/drug-and-doping-control/products/bereg-kitr-for-human-tests/

    Look at the closeup. You remove the red plastic ring, and once that is done the entire bottle is glass, except for the sticker which will presumably go on it for security and identification.

    So you have a glass-to-glass contact right up the neck. The metal teeth are part of the cap, as is a small black plastic disk at the top. When the bottle is fully closed the glass rim of the bottle comes up firmly home against the black plastic disk inside the cap.

    If you force the cap off, you will leave scratches; but even if you open it the way Berlinger says to do it, which cracks the cap in half, you will have left microscopic scratches on the inside of the cap when you closed it. There will be no marks at all on the inside of the cap only so long as the cap remains separate from the bottle, and perhaps not even then; manufacturing may well have left marks which are visible with a microscope.

    The process should be duplicated for Berlinger, and it is amazing they were not brought in as expert witnesses. The whole thing looks shady, and I note McLaren has not identified any of his experts. His primary witness remains Rodchenkov, whom he finds credible in this instance although Rodchenkov referred to the IC as three fools who did not understand anything about how the lab worked.

    It is also all smoke and mirrors. Even if McLaren could demonstrate that the tamper-proof bottle can be opened without leaving any traces, of which I am not convinced at all, he has still not tied any such process to Russioa by any evidence other than the testimony of Rodchenkov. Samples which include someone else’s urine could very well have been deliberately provided to the IC by Rodchenkov; he had means, motive and opportunity. He is finished in Russia and would be imprisoned if he went back. His future now lies in the United States, and it would be the most natural thing in the world for him to provide evidence implying a government program.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sorry I couldn’t join the conversation immediately after comments started appearing – I went on hiatus, I believe, the very next day after this post was created. Anyway, thank you racingshoes, Mark, and Jen for your detailed examinations. I’ve learned quite a lot.

    Like

  8. Hi JT, I have been following blogs and have briefly discussed with Mark about drafting some material for a citizens commission reviewing the objectivity and ethics of the Russian doping investigations. I have started to compile everything here and referenced this blog post, particularly re collective punishment https://citizenscommission.atlassian.net/wiki/display/CCWADA2016/2016+Home

    I have cited this blog a couple of times there, if you would prefer not to be linked to, please let me know,
    Thanks, Nicola

    Like

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