Fancy Bears, the group responsible for hacking into the World Anti-Doping Agency’s database in mid-September, have illegally published the medical records of Mo Farah, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and around 60 other high-profile athletes. The purpose of the hack: to shed light on supposed anti-Russian bias within the upper echelons of WADA and the IOC.
WADA’s McLaren report of early summer recommended banning Russia from the Rio Olympics on account of alleged state-sponsored doping. The IOC’s subsequent ruling forbid a number of athletes who had already finished doping bans from competing in Rio. This was decidedly discriminatory, seeing as non-Russian reformed dopers like Justin Gatlin were allowed to take their place.
On the face of it, there seems to be a thread of anti-Russian sentiment running through international sporting regulatory agencies like WADA and the IOC. Into this mess stepped Fancy Bears, a vigilante hacking group intent on setting the record straight.
The group focused in on ‘therapeutic use exemptions’ (TUEs) granted to non-Russian athletes allowing them to take banned substances, predominantly under prescription as a means of overcoming illness or injury.
British cyclist Bradley Wiggins was granted an exemption to use salbutamol, a drug used in the treatment of asthma. Oxymoronic as it may be, the man with the iron lungs does indeed have a bronchial disorder so there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing here whatsoever.
Spanish tennis pro Rafael Nadal was granted a TUE to take anti-inflammatories for a recurring knee injury. While it can hardly be alleged that this hack has in any way achieved its aim of exposing a worldwide anti-Russian agenda, the Fancy Bears hack has provided an opportunity to visit upon the question of transparency in sport.
Speaking to the Spanish media, Nadal surprisingly stated that he actually supported the publication of his medical history. The 14-time Grand Slam winner said that it would in fact be beneficial for ‘athletes, supporters and the media’ if the results of all drugs tests were to be made public immediately.
Dmitry Shahov, senior tennis writer at Russian sports news site championat.com, told SIN that the Fancy Bears hack was designed to be inflammatory and sensationalist in nature. He points to the fact that every time a TUE was granted, the proper medical criteria had been satisfied and the certificates filled out correctly. This is hardly the scandal it is being portrayed as.
This hack was clearly an act of retaliation against a supposedly biased WADA. Mr Shahov contends that this hack ‘exposed nothing, as the drug use of Russian athletes was not therapeutic at all’. He added that the reason Russian athletes didn’t apply for TUEs more often was because they were poorly informed about how and when they could be used.
According to Mr Shahov, the hack was designed to ‘change public opinion’ towards the athletes, and in some cases it has worked. Just last week the Irish Times ran with the headline ‘Bradley Wiggins reputation on the brink after Wada leaks’. Last I checked, a man’s reputation cannot be damaged by attempting to overcome a limiting medical condition to achieve sporting success.
This headline-grabbing faux scandal has uncovered nothing, except perhaps that WADA and the IOC need to invest more heavily in data protection.
– By Eoin Molloy