— Published 20 November 2023

After the IOC, WADA warns against the Friendship Games

The trend is not new, but it’s getting stronger. With less than 250 days to go until the Paris 2024 Games (D – 249), the Olympic movement is putting up a united front in the face of Russia, and above all its desire to slip its own competitions into the international calendar.

The IOC has shown the way. Early last week, Thomas Bach took advantage of the Forum of International Federations in Lausanne to call for a boycott of the multi-sport competitions announced by Russia for next summer. Top of the list were the BRICS Games in Kazan in June, followed by the Friendship Games in Moscow and Yekaterinburg in September.

At the same time, the body alerted the National Olympic Committees to the danger of accepting the Russian invitation, inviting them to refuse to take part in the events.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has now joined the movement. Meeting last weekend in Montreal, its Executive Committee and Foundation Board discussed the Russian question at length. Not surprising. But, less expected, they also discussed the organization of the 2024 Friendship Games (September 15 to 29, 2024).

WADA President Witold Banka said on the second day of the meeting: “The so-called Friendship Games in Russia have been announced for next year. We would like to issue a warning, as we have serious doubts about the prospects for the fight against doping. This potential event will be held in a country that does not respect the rules, and we have no information about the anti-doping program during these competitions.

The former Polish Sports Minister continued: “The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) has still not achieved compliance status. From our point of view, these competitions put athletes’ health at risk. The possible participation in these events could have, for the athletes, certain consequences.”

Olivier Niggli, WADA’s Director General, agrees. Following in his president’s footsteps, the Swiss also warned of the “dangers” of considering participation in the Friendship Games. “We have no information on the type of anti-doping program that will be put in place, if any, during this event, nor on the organization that will implement this program, given that RUSADA is still not in compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code, he insists. Under the Code, an international event such as this should not be awarded to a country whose national anti-doping organization is not compliant. In this context, how can athletes be sure that they will be competing in a safe and fair environment?

The message is clear. And the roles perfectly distributed. To the IOC the political argument. “None of us should participate in any way whatsoever in such so-called sporting events with a political aim“, Thomas Bach hammered home to the international federations in Lausanne on Monday November 13. WADA, on the other hand, took a more pragmatic line, pointing out the risks of an event organized by a country that has always been shunned for its track record on doping.

Will the arguments be a deterrent? Probably not. Admittedly, the Brazilian ambassador in Moscow recently suggested that his country could take part in the BRICS Games. But his statement was not taken up by the sporting movement. As for the Friendship Games, revived by Vladimir Putin forty years after their only edition, organized in 1984 in the Soviet Union, their participation was already very vague. Today, it is more than uncertain.