There was no in-competition blood testing in weightlifting according to Wada’s report on the anti-doping programme at the 2016 Olympics. Photograph: Stoyan Nenov/AFP/Getty Images
In 1944, the Office of Strategic Services published its Simple Sabotage Field Manual – a guide designed to teach ordinary citizens how to subvert government services in occupied countries. It instructed readers in the art of “indirect methods” of sabotage. They did not need shovels, picks, or dynamite to cause damage, but could instead use “purposeful stupidity” to disrupt organisations and corporations through “faulty decisions”. The CIA, which grew out of the OSS, recently declassified the guide and in doing so it inadvertently revealed that the Simple Sabotage Field Manual is apparently a key text on the business studies curriculum, where it is published under the title “How To Get Ahead in Sports Administration”.
It contains such timeless advice as: 1) “Insist on doing everything through ‘channels’. Never permit shortcuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.” 2) “Make ‘speeches’. Talk as frequently as possible and at great length.” 3) “When possible, refer all matters to committees, for ‘further study and consideration’. Attempt to make the committee as large as possible.” 4) “Advocate ‘caution’ and urge your fellow conferees to be ‘reasonable’ and avoid haste.” 5) “Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to reopen the question of the advisability of that decision.” And 6) “Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.”
To Lausanne, then, and the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee. On Thursday, the World Anti-Doping Agency published a report on the anti-doping programme at the 2016 Olympics, written by a team of independent observers working in Rio this summer. It catalogued, in comprehensive detail, “a number of serious failings” in the anti-doping programme, which was so under‑resourced, badly designed and poorly administered that it was strained “close to the breaking point” and would have “almost certainly collapsed” if it had not been for the “initiative, tenacity and professionalism” of the men and women working on the ground during the Games.
On Friday morning, less than 24 hours later, the IOC released a statement welcoming that same report, which, it says, “shows that it was a successful Olympic Games with a successful anti‑doping programme”. And it is true, within the report’s 55 pages, it does say that there were some “impressive advances” in certain areas of the anti-doping programme at Rio. Shut one eye, skim the first paragraphs, then skip the rest, you might reasonably conclude, as the IOC’s medical and scientific director Dr Richard Budgett apparently has, that “the integrity of the programme was ensured despite some challenges the Organising Committee had to overcome”.
Surprisingly, however, the IOC’s press department seems to have been the only media body who decided that the headline takeaway from the report was that everything is tickety-boo. The rest of the world’s press were rather more preoccupied with other little details, like the fact more than a third of athletes competing in Rio were not subjected to drugs testing before the Games in 2016, and of those 1,913 were competing in one of the 10 “high-risk sports”. Or that there was no out-of-competition testing for some events, limited in-competition testing in others and no in-competition blood testing in a third group, including weightlifting.
Taken altogether, the report reads like something Joseph Heller might have cooked up if he had set out to write a satirical novel about institutional incompetence in the Olympics instead of the air force. There was insufficient training for the staff, a shortage of IT equipment and an utterly chaotic schedule. There was no hotel for the control officers, no meal tickets for the chaperones and no reliable transport for anyone to get away once they were done working at night. The upshot was that there were days when 50% of the planned tests could not go ahead, and at the end of the Games 500 fewer tests were conducted than had been intended.
“These various logistical issues,” the report notes, “were foreseeable and entirely avoidable”. It seems the two things it would have taken to fix them were time and money, resources which were, unfortunately, in desperately short supply. Because the IOC had only seven years to get ready for Rio, and the Olympics generate (according to reports) only $6bn every four years.
The IOC keeps only a fraction of that, and has many other costs to meet. Such as the $156m it has set aside to build a new luxury HQ in Lausanne which, at the current level of funding, is much more than the combined sum it will spend on Wada in the next decade.
There is one more thing it would have taken too: the will to act, from both Wada’s head staff and the IOC. And if you go by their fine words this, at least, is one thing they do not lack. Only the other day Wada announced that it was going to take the recommendations made at a recent reform summit, “to the foundation board meeting; at which, the process towards a ‘roadmap’ for the anti-doping system will be drawn up.” And only last June, the IOC president, Thomas Bach, promised that he would convene an ‘Extraordinary World Conference on Doping’ in 2017”.
There will be long and frequent speeches, large committees will be formed to conduct further study and consideration, and, so far as it comes, change will proceed cautiously, with everything done through the proper channels.