Wada president Craig Reedie: Russian sport’s ‘culture of cheating’

The anti-doping chief on his shock at discovering how far Moscow officials went to falsify athletes’ samples
Sir Craig Reedie in the garden of his home in Bridge of Weir near Glasgow © Keiran Dodds

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

This is an experimental feature. Give us your feedback. Thank you for your feedback.

What do you think?

The view from Sir Craig Reedie’s garden is beautifully serene, looking out towards the Campsie Fells and Ben Lomond. The drive to his house passes through the quiet streets of Bridge of Weir, a village so intimate that none of the houses needs numbers, they have only names. His house, Senara, is named after a farm in Northern Ireland where his wife, Rosemary, comes from. Yet just seven minutes earlier I was at Glasgow airport.

Reedie, 75, is the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada). He moved to Bridge of Weir in 1969 and this is his fourth house in the village, having downsized 15 years ago from a much larger house when his son and daughter left home. When I express surprise that this idyllic setting is part of Glasgow Reedie sets me straight. “Glasgow has got a lot of nice, lovely places, too.”

With that he smiles. In fact, the setting would make an ideal Visit Scotland poster. By contrast Rio, where the 2016 Olympic Games will kick off next Friday, is undergoing a public relations crisis. A recent banner at Rio airport read: “Welcome to hell. Police and firefighters don’t get paid. Whoever comes to Rio will not be safe.”

“I feel rather sorry for Rio,” says Reedie, who is also vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). “When the games were awarded in 2009 everything was in their favour: politically and economically sound, a very popular president and they had found oil.” In the seven years since virtually everything has gone wrong: the price of oil has dropped dramatically, President Dilma Rousseff has been impeached and the economy is undergoing its deepest recession since 1901. “Hopefully, by the time we get to Rio, steps have been taken to make sure the banner won’t be shown again,” he says.

Yet while the banner may disappear, Reedie knows the huge stain of doping which hangs over the games will not. A report released earlier this month by the Canadian law professor Richard McLaren concluded that the Russian government, security services and sporting authorities colluded to cheat over “a vast majority” of international sporting events.

Front of the house © Keiran Dodds

“What has come as a surprise is the complete involvement of the [Russian] ministry and the laboratory to try to ensure no Russian athlete ever tested positive,” he says. “The scale of it is enormous. The Moscow laboratory passed every test it had from a Russian athlete to the ministry and they were instructed to falsify the records or make it negative.” According to Reedie, this was going on throughout the 2012 games in London, the 2013 world university games and the 2014 Sochi winter games.

“Even the Russian security services were involved,” he says. Wada installs a team of independent observers at every Olympic Games and at Sochi, Reedie says a member of his team was placed under security supervision to make sure he didn’t go anywhere near the laboratory in the middle of the night. “That’s when they were replacing dirty urine with clear urine,” he says. “There is a culture of cheating in Russian sport which has to change.”

Two chairs in the ‘snug’ where the couple watch television © Keiran Dodds

The Russian track and field team is already banned from Rio and Wada had called for the ban to be extended to all the country’s competitors. The issue was debated by the IOC executive board last Sunday, with Reedie ringing in from his bungalow to make the argument. Yet the IOC ruled it should be left up to the 28 sports federations to decide which Russians can compete this summer.

“The IOC went their way. That is their right,” says Reedie. “I don’t think Wada can be blamed for Russian cheating.”

Yet while Reedie can take satisfaction that Russia’s doping secrets have emerged due to two reports he commissioned, the fact remains that it was media investigations that forced Wada to act. Indeed the first Russian whistleblower who approached Reedie’s organisation was directed towards the German television station ARD.

“That was before my time,” says Reedie, who became president in January 2014. The whistleblower did return, he admits, “but we did not have corroboration,” he says. “Also, at that time we did not have the power to conduct that kind of investigation.”

Photographs of Reedie and his wife Rosemary © Keiran Dodds
Photos of Reedie with world leaders © Keiran Dodds

Wada now has an investigation budget of $1.2m, but there are still limits to what it can do. “We can’t go charging round the world saying ‘we are here to investigate something that we think you might be doing’,” says Reedie. “We set the international standard for tests, we check the laboratories. But the actual testing is fragmented, done by anti-doping organisations in individual countries, by international federations and at competitions such as the Commonwealth Games and Olympics. We are not a police force of drug testers.”

However, while he accepts that the Russian doping scandal has hurt the Rio games, what he will not accept are athletes refusing to compete due to the Zika virus. As we speak, he leads me up the garden steps to the dining room dominated by a mahogany dining table, which extends the full length of the room. A gift from his mother-in-law, it seats 12 — but Reedie does not have cutlery to host such a large dinner party. On the walls are pictures of great British golf courses, a sport Reedie loves. As we stand opposite a picture of the 17th-hole at the Old Course in St Andrews, he talks of top golfers pulling out of Rio — the first time golf will feature at the Olympics. Former world number one Rory Mcllroy has even said he will not be watching the golf. “Golfers using the justification of Zika is up to them,” he says. “Where I take exception to young McIlroy is if he says ‘I only took up the game to win and I have no responsibility to developing the game.’ Then I think he is just absolutely wrong. Any top sportsman in any sport has the responsibility to develop the sport.”

Statue of a discus thrower, a present from the IOC © Keiran Dodds
Table in the kitchen © Keiran Dodds

With that he takes me down the hallway to the room he calls “the snug”, a little box room with two upholstered chairs, a small television set and memorabilia from his near 40 years in sports administration. On one wall are medals from the three London Olympics of 1904, 1948 and 2012 — a present from his son David and daughter-in-law Kathie. The other wall features photographs of him with the Queen, Pope John Paul II, Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin and David Cameron. But Reedie has brought me here to show me a book he has just been sent by the International Tennis Federation. “They have interviewed every tennis player who has won an Olympic medal and everyone of them sees that as the high point of their career . . . The golfers are seriously missing a trick and I hope they learn the error of their ways.”

Yet he does concede that Rio might dim the glow created by London in 2012, which brought in an estimated £12bn in benefits, according to the IOC. “After the games, [UK] embassies were receiving messages from other countries saying: ‘We think very highly of you as a country for the way you handled the games’,” he says. The run-up to Rio has generated such disenchantment that Reedie hopes only that people “are not losing faith in sport”. He defines success for Rio in very modest terms: “If the Brazilian government provides funds for [the] police and fire and other services, we will get through the games.”

Favourite thing

Craig Reedie’s favourite object is an Olympic torch from London 2012. As a long-serving IOC member and the then chairman of the British Olympic Committee, he played a major part in the capital being awarded the games after the failure of three previous UK bids. Reedie himself carried the torch when it passed St Andrews golf course, and it now stands next to the fireplace in his sitting room.

Photographs: Keiran Dodds

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.