In which transparency explains: there was no 'bullying'

To be honest, this space is having a very hard time understanding why Beckie Scott complained about being “bullied” and Edwin Moses said he was told to “shut up,” allegations found to be without merit in a lengthy report made public Wednesday about backstage World Anti-Doping Agency politics.

Politics involves some measure of rough and tumble. Sports politics is for sure politics. 

As a graduate of the Northwestern journalism school whose first jobs in the business were in Chicago, where politics are not for the meek, this whole thing has seemed like one big episode from the theater of the absurd. 

This episode at WADA has drawn worldwide headlines for months.

That’s perplexing.

Beckie Scott at the Sochi Games // Getty Images

Beckie Scott at the Sochi Games // Getty Images

It simply does not reflect well on what in a related context in the report, issued Wednesday by the Covington and Burling law firm, is called the “North American” perspective on the long-playing Russian doping saga.

Everyone in Olympic and anti-doping circles knows who the key activists in this drama have been. 

For a variety of reasons, it’s a good bet that “North American” perspective has done itself, and the stakeholders it purports to represent, precious little good. There’s a better way - a way, way, way better way, and a starting place would be one in which that North American perspective recognizes that it is part of, not  apart from, the rest of the world. 

Put another way: us and them — in its many permutations — does not work.

And yet:

In a statement given to Associated Press after the report went public, the wire service reported that Scott and Moses “expressed their extreme disappointment” in what they termed a “whitewashing” of their claims.

The report runs to 58 pages. With appendices documenting source material, the total expands to 133.  WADA also made available the unedited audio recording of its September 2018 executive committee meeting and a transcript of the relevant portion of the meeting. This is all in addition to the previously published minutes of the meeting.


How is that credible? 

Scott and Moses declined to take part in the investigation, in part because Covington — according to the lawyer representing them — had a conflict of interest. Problem: no substantive facts were ever advanced in support of that claim, the report asserts.

Further straining credulity: even before the report was made public, per AP, the WADA athletes’ commission that Scott leads sent a letter to the executive committee supporting Scott’s decision not to take part and saying that “any report released under these circumstances will do incredible harm to athletes’ trust in WADA.”

That’s us-and-them rhetoric, and it amounts to the worst sort of prejudging before the, you know, facts are in. 

To the contrary, the report offers precisely the thing that athlete activists, especially those inquiring into matters of governance, are always asking for, and justifiably — transparency. 

Indeed, Wednesday’s report not only deconstructs what happened in lengthy detail but offers a renewed lesson in the value of transparency.

To start, WADA politics have hardly proven genteel.

At the September 2017 meeting in Paris, an exchange between Francesco Ricci Bitti, a senior Olympic figure who in this context is president of the summer international sports federations, and Witold Banka, the Polish sports minister - Banka will take over this fall as the new WADA president — was described as “really unpleasant,” “very tense” and “heated.”

The May 2018 meeting in Montreal involved several “harsh exchanges,” including multiple comments directed at British lawyer Jonathan Taylor, chair of the Compliance Review Committee, “which witnesses described as more aggressive than the comments to Ms. Scott …” Further, comments made by New Zealand’s Clayton Cosgrove at that meeting aimed at the current WADA president, Scotland’s Craig Reedie, were aggressive, with two witnesses describing Cosgrove as a “pit bull.”

Francesco Ricci Bitti // Getty Images

Francesco Ricci Bitti // Getty Images

WADA president Sir Craig Reedie // Getty Images

WADA president Sir Craig Reedie // Getty Images

To that end, the Covington report makes four recommendations for change, including the adoption of a code of conduct and complaint policy for its key committees and training for respectful boardroom dialogue, noting that English is not everyone’s first language.

Scott told the world in a BBC interview last October 12 that she had been mistreated by members of the Olympic movement due to her opposition to the reinstatement of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency. She “fundamentally disagreed” with reinstatement, was bullied for that position and the treatment she faced was “indicative of a general attitude of dismissal and belittling of the athlete voice.”

Covington: “Rather than bullying, what we found is that Ms. Scott willingly and freely agreed to the CRC endorsement in June of conditional reinstatement of RUSADA, and after voting in favor of conditional reinstatement [earlier] in September, was permitted to change her vote without being subjected to pressure, coercion, or criticism at the September 20 Executive Committee meeting.”

Before moving on — be sure to take in that previous paragraph in its entirety, and note Scott’s position switching, especially if she so “fundamentally disagreed” with reinstatement. 

Let’s also note at some length, as the report does, because transparency:

In a call that began at 7 a.m. September 13 Alberta time — Scott lives in Alberta — Scott signed on to the CRC plan for conditional reinstatement. Meanwhile, three hours earlier, 4 a.m. Alberta time, the UK Anti-Doping Agency launched a social media campaign insisting WADA keep to a tough-on-Russia stance. At 12:30 p.m., Scott proposed a call between Taylor and the athlete commission. A WADA official responded 27 minutes later; at 3:52 p.m., she wrote separately to Taylor to express concern over her vote, specifically noting “the media campaign by other athletes,” as Covington put it. 

In her words: “After some reflection, and now seeing the movement afoot in the media by the UK and US athletes … I have to express that both personally, and as an athlete representative, I am not comfortable with recommending reinstatement …,” adding a few lines down, “I do see both sides, I assure you …”

The next morning, September 14, amid a flurry of emails, at 6:43 a.m. Alberta time, Scott emailed the CRC and withdrew her vote in favor of recommending reinstatement. At 10:15 p.m., she resigned from the CRC, saying, among other things: “… politics have trumped principle.”

For emphasis, for months Scott had been on board with everyone else on the CRC but abruptly changed her position amid a social media campaign. That’s — principle?

Covington: the tone of Scott’s resignation letter from the CRC “departed substantially from her prior correspondence. Her emails to the CRC reconsidering her [RUSADA] vote had acknowledged ‘the complexity of the situation’ and noted that ‘I do see both sides.’ By contrast, the resignation letter asserted that clean athletes rightly felt ‘disregarded,’ and characterized the decision as proof that ‘politics had trumped principle.’ It also did not acknowledge that she had initially voted in favor of the CRC’s decision to recommend reinstatement of RUSADA, or that she had supported the concept of conditional reinstatement dating back to June. Further, the letter misstated the date of her email to the CRC opposing reinstatement as September 13, rather than September 14, thereby suggesting that she had opposed the CRC’s recommendation on the day that the CRC had met. The following day, September 15, the Associated Press reported that Ms. Scott had told the AP of her resignation.”

At the September 20 meeting, Ricci Bitti and another senior Olympic official, Patrick Baumann, made comments. But as the Covington report spells out, those were in response to Scott’s criticism of the IOC athletes’ commission, not her position on RUSADA. 

None of the relevant discussion at that September 20 meeting had to do with the RUSADA decision — “a decision which was done and over with by the time Ms. Scott delivered her Athlete Committee report.” 

Patrick Baumann in Los Angeles in May 2017 // Getty Images

Patrick Baumann in Los Angeles in May 2017 // Getty Images

As for Baumann, and let’s note here the timing, because if you’re going to pick a fight you have to be responsible for the consequences — again, transparency.

Timeline: Scott’s interview with the BBC, again, was October 12. Literally the very next day, October 13, while in Buenos Aires for the Youth Games, Baumann died of a heart attack, just 51 years old. Of course the two events would seem thoroughly unrelated. Even so, Baumann was by most accounts the likely next president of the IOC. And if you don’t think that people in the wider Olympic scene are not put out that this fight has gone on now for seven months, and they are wondering why his memory is being besmirched like this — and someone is responsible — then you missed the class when they put two and two together. 

Especially — especially — when you consider what Baumann said at that September 20 meeting at the Seychelles, because — again, transparency — it’s hardly hard knocks. 

Baumann said there was a “perception” that the WADA athlete committee seemed to be in opposition to the Olympic movement, and that while he knew it was a governance question, the WADA executive committee needed to have a “frank and open conversation” about whether the WADA athlete committee was a representative or advisory body. His position: the IOC athletes’ commission was a representative body and so there was no need to replicate that through the WADA athlete committee.

Ricci Bitti, like Baumann not a native English speaker, went on at some length. The key parts: he expressed surprise that Scott had a “victimistic” attitude and said, among other things, “The athlete plays a good role but they have to keep their place as everybody.” All the same, he also said, “Beckie, you know that I have a very good relationship with you historically and that I consider you very important for the system.”

The remarks from both these men, the Covington report says, were tied to the subject matter of Scott’s athlete commission report, and “reflected views held by others in the room and discussions that already were ongoing within the organization,” adding, “The comments themselves included no direct or indirect threats, attempt at intimidation, or effort to humiliate Ms. Scott.”

As for Ricci Bitti’s response — it “may have been disrespectful in part.” 

But in no way was his response, or Baumann’s, bullying or harassment, the report said.

So: how did we get to this point?

And why? 

Seriously: why?