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A woman walks into the head office for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in Montreal, November 9, 2015. An international anti-doping commission recommended on Monday that Russia's Athletics Federation be banned from international competition over widespread doping offences - a move that could see the powerhouse Russian team excluded from next year's Rio Olympics. Russian sports minister said there was no evidence for the accusations against the Federation. Photo by Christinne Muschi/Reuters

World Anti-Doping Agency leader said he lacked authority to pursue Russia

WASHINGTON — The World Anti-Doping Agency didn’t immediately investigate allegations of systematic cheating by the Russian Olympic team because it lacked the authority to conduct such an inquiry, according to the watchdog’s president.

Sir Craig Reedie told the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee in a letter that the panel released Friday that the anti-doping agency’s investigative powers were expanded early in 2015. That’s five years after Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said the agency was made aware of allegations of widespread government-sanctioned doping among Russian athletes.

Before the agency received more authority, its practice was to assist governments and local anti-doping authorities with their investigations, Reedie told Thune in the letter, dated July 5. That assistance included developing protocols for proper evidence gathering and information sharing between governments and sports organizations, he said.

“There was no delay on our part in furthering the information that was received over a period of time in regard to these allegations,” Reedie wrote. He also told Thune the initial reports of cheating by Russian athletes that the agency received from a whistleblower were not shared with Russian authorities. To do so “would have been a grave lack of judgment on our behalf,” he wrote.

Russian track and field athletes are banned by the International Association of Athletics Federations from competing globally, including in the Rio Olympics, because of systematic doping. But IAAF President Sebastian Coe said 136 Russians have applied for clearances.

The Senate Commerce Committee has legislative and oversight jurisdiction over sports. Thune wrote to Reedie last month, outlining in a seven-page letter his numerous concerns with how the watchdog group handled the allegations of cheating by the Russian team.

The senator said a robust anti-doping agency is indispensable to fairness in sports and the health and safety of athletes. But the agency’s response to reports of an “elaborate state-sponsored doping program in Russia” called the agency’s strength and credibility into question, he said.

Thune said his committee independently confirmed media reports that the agency knew of the doping among Russian athletes and Moscow’s involvement in February 2010. But the watchdog didn’t establish an independent commission to examine the claims until December 2014.

Thune also questioned whether the anti-doping agency is adequately independent, noting that board members are permitted to serve in executive positions with sports organizations.

Reedie said his agency’s “power to investigate” didn’t officially become part of the world anti-doping code until January 2015 and it set up the commission a month prior “in anticipation of this authority coming into force.”

The agency does not have any “concrete information” of any state-sponsored doping program beyond Russia’s, Reedie said. “If that information is forthcoming, then we would not hesitate to institute an investigation,” he wrote.

Reedie also defended the agency’s integrity and impartiality. He said members of the agency’s board and executive committee sign conflict of interest statements.

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