Wada intent on proving systemic doping is not limited to Russia

• Chief investigator Gunter Younger has to ‘pick battles’ due to backlog of cases
• Wada hamstrung by lack of resources in fight against drugs in sport

The World Anti-Doping Agency’s chief investigator has set his sights on exposing systemic doping in countries other than Russia but admits a lack of resources means he already has a backlog of cases only two months into his new job.

Gunter Younger, who worked with Dick Pound and Prof Richard McLaren on last year’s independent commission report that exposed the staggering scale of Russia’s doping before he joined Wada full-time in October, told the Guardian he planned to run more big cases in future but was already having to pick his battles.

“I fully agree that it can’t be just Russia,” Younger said when asked whether there needed to be further independent commissions into countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Turkey. “There are other countries and it is only fair to address them. Of course as soon as it becomes public it’s harder to find evidence, so I will not mention which we will address next. But I can assure you we are developing strategies to address these problems.”

Younger, who was speaking before McLaren’s highly anticipated second report into doping in sport, which will be published on Friday, said he had deliberately avoided finding out the contents of the report. However, he believes that his former colleague “would not have called a press conference in London unless he had something significant to say”.

McLaren’s report is expected to add far greater detail to his first excoriating report in July, which accused Russia’s government, security services and sporting authorities of colluding to hide widespread doping across “a vast majority” of winter and summer sports. And they might not be the only targets, with the Canadian law professor also said to be examining the failings of the global anti-doping system.

However Younger, in his new role as Wada’s director of intelligence and investigations, is determined to show that his beefed up yet still small department, which has six investigators and greater powers to respond to whistleblowers under the 2015 Wada code, can make a significant difference in the fight against doping.

“I think it is perhaps the right step to start with a small group, because we have to prove the investigations are a very important tool for the future of the fight against doping, but I’m 100% sure we will succeed and then people will invest more,” he said. “On the other side I know the budget is very low for Wada. After two months I have a backlog of information that I would like to follow up but, due to lack of resources, it’s hard so I need to prioritise. Of course, if we get more money, we will do more. We will run more big cases. For the Russian case, for example, it took me six months and we were sometimes 10 people working on it.”

But Younger has rejected recent criticism from the German journalist Hajo Seppelt that Wada did nothing to deal with corruption inside athletics’ governing body, the IAAF – pointing out that Wada’s independent commission handed material to the French police because they would be better at investigating it.

“I have a very good relationship with Hajo but saying Wada did nothing is wrong because we gave all the evidence to the French authorities, who later arrested the former president Lamine Diack and his lawyer Habib Cissé,” he said. “I realised during the independent commission investigation that, if I approached Cissé, he would know we were after him and he would destroy everything. This is why we handed everything to the law enforcement and gave them our opinion about what should be done.”

One of Younger’s plans is to develop a network of global whistleblowers but he says he will do his utmost to avoid cases such as that of the Russian Yuliya Stepanova who has admitted she fears for her life after exposing doping in her country. “I was a police investigator for many years so I would always ask whistleblowers: ‘Can I use the information you have given me?’ If they said no, I would find another way of getting it. When I investigated Russia I had whistleblowers helping me. I’m not saying they were Russian or not but they are not known, they are not in public and they love their life like it was before.”

But could he really have protected Stepanova and her husband? “I had the pleasure to speak many, many hours with them and I will know Hajo will not love what I am going to say but I would never have put them out in public. Because as soon as they are public, how can you protect them? It is not possible. Their biggest chance was to keep them confidential.”

Having previously been head of Interpol’s drugs unit and a cybercrime division in Germany, Younger is used to tough challenges. And he is realistic but hopeful about what lies ahead.

“What I know for sure with is that with six people we will not able to follow up all cases,” he says. ”I hope my team will be pivotal in coordinating action with our partners at national anti-doping agencies, international federations and law enforcement. But we need to combine all our strength in order to really fight against doping. It can’t only be done by one organisation – it has to be done by all organisations together.”

• This article was amended on 9 December 2016. An earlier version said “coruscating” where “excoriating” was meant.


Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

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