What to make of the WADA hack

Thanks to Russian hacker group ‘Fancy Bears’, we now know that US Olympic hero Simone Biles tested positive for methylphenidate on the day she won Olympic gold in Rio.

Shockwaves have rippled around social media largely, I suspect, because methylphenidate has no fewer than five syllables and sounds terrifyingly ‘sciencey’.

This drug is known on the streets as kibbles and bits, skippy, pineapple, vitamin R and kiddy cocaine but most commonly it is called Ritalin.

Hackers have accessed the database of the World Anti-Doping Agency and, of all the information stored by the body in its administration and management system (ADAMS), they have chosen to reveal that a teenager is on Ritalin.

This has to set the alarm bells ringing, surely if US athletes were engaging in endorsed doping, WADA data would turn up something more damning than ADHD medication.

Unless this hack was simply a propaganda exercise aimed at discrediting the US medal haul and justifying, by some crooked logic, the Russian programme of state sponsored doping for Olympic athletes that earned them an IAAF ban for the Rio games.

Biles consistently out-performed Russian gymnasts in Brazil, the US team pipped the Russians to the team gold and Biles claimed three individual gold medals and a bronze, so this information is a propaganda gold mine.

Of course the Fancy Bears also revealed that both Venus and Serena Williams were granted certificates of approval to use corticosteroids.

Both Williams’ sisters were cleared to use forms of prednisone, a corticosteroid drug used to treat inflammatory conditions.

It is almost impossible to determine whether or not the William’s sisters need this drug, but it is important to remember that they have been playing professional tennis for over twenty years and chances are they need to use anti-inflammatory drugs every now and then.

Venus was cleared to use triamcinolone a drug used to treat inflammation and Serena cleared for use of oxycodone a semisynthetic opioid used to treat pain.

The fourth athlete violated by this hack was basketball player Elena Delle Donne who tested positive for ADHD drug Adderall and hydrocortisone both of which were prescribed to her for medical conditions.

The hackers have effectively planted the notion that US athletes are guilty of wrongdoing in the public consciousness by publishing confidential information that does in fact not reveal any evidence of doping when looked at critically.

We know that the group is based in Russia and appear to have approached this operation with a preconceived outcome, it appears they have set out to cast a shadow on US Olympic performance regardless of whether or not compelling evidence exists.

Critically, this does not mean that WADA is not subject to corruption and that athletes aren’t granted certificates of approval for drugs they don’t need but there is no evidence that these four athletes have done anything wrong.

No link has been established yet between the hacker group and the Russian government or sporting bodies.

What we do know is that this group are either ignorant and irresponsible, or they are engaging in deliberate deception and propaganda.

There is no groundbreaking evidence of a plot to cover up doping by US athletes with WADA collusion.

Thanks to these hackers, we have learnt that a teenage gymnast struggles to concentrate, that tennis players in their thirties need anti-inflammatory drugs and that people will jump to conclusions with scant evidence if you are obscure enough and use scientific terms.

Fancy Bears claim they have more information, perhaps it is something more concrete than what they have released so far but this seems extremely unlikely as the group has only capitalised on public ignorance of WADA procedures and medical terminology without presenting a strong case that the US team engaged in doping in Rio.

By James Richardson