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CEO Of U.S. Anti-Doping Agency On Suspension Of Russia In 2018 Winter Olympics


For reaction to the decision to ban Russia from the Olympics let's bring in Travis Tygart. As CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, he has long argued for a tougher stance on doping. Mr. Tygart, welcome.

TRAVIS TYGART: Hey, Mary Lou, it's great to be here.

KELLY: Glad to have you with us. I'm guessing you're pleased with this decision from the IOC today. Are you also surprised?

TYGART: You know, I think clean athletes' voices were finally heard, which is pleasing. Of course, no one's totally satisfied. And we can't remember or forget, rather, all of the, you know, athletes who were robbed. I think you mentioned in the top, you know, 33 medals were won by Russia in the Sochi Winter Olympic Games back in 2014. Eleven of those have now been disqualified. And those are 11 individual athletes at a minimum who were robbed of their opportunity to, you know, have their moment on the podium.

KELLY: Do you believe this process, the IOC review, was fair? I mean, we heard Tom Goldman just talking there about how Russia feels like they're being singled out for political reasons.

TYGART: Yeah, look; I think that, you know, when we were in the middle of our Postal Services case, the Armstrong case, we were accused of being anti-American. I think it's play one from, you know, criminal defense attorney and other politicians' handbook - playbook to accuse those who are just doing their job to uphold the rules in a fair manner of playing politics. I don't think at all in - you know, in our case in Postal as well as this situation our eye has always been on what's best for clean athletes and the principle of fair play. And I think today is a significant victory in that regard.

KELLY: Your agency put out a statement today calling, as you did, this as a victory for clean athletes, but also saying this is a sad day. How come?

TYGART: Yeah, listen; I think we're - you know, the Olympic movement is based on inclusion. And, you know, we want to - our athletes we hear all the time want to compete against the best. And unfortunately, when you have a country that's not there as powerful and competitive as Russia is that's sad. But on the other hand, that can't come - that inclusion can't come at the expense of clean athletes' rights. And I think that ultimately today is why this decision is the right decision and that clean athletes will see as, you know, a step in a victory towards - for their rights.

KELLY: What about this other aspect to the decision that some Russian athletes will be allowed to compete, just not as part of Team Russia?

TYGART: Well, it's a critical piece of it. And, you know, certainly some called for an outright ban and no allowance for any athletes from Russia to compete. And so now the eyes will be on this process to ensure that it's done in a robust fashion and ensuring that a very, very narrow category, if any, athletes from Russia who weren't tainted or got the advantage of this drug program are allowed to compete at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. And I think that will be, you know, incumbent upon the task force to do that in a robust and transparent manner.

KELLY: You know, this decision, of course, will send a strong message to Russia, which as we heard they're planning to appeal. Is it also designed to send a strong message to other countries where athletes have been found to have been doping but countries that are still sending teams to South Korea in February?

TYGART: I think absolutely. And, you know, our - there were 37 countries as well as athlete committees from around the world that asked for this - basically this outcome. And I think in part it was to ensure a message was sent that, hey, you know, fair play and clean sport matters. And if you intentionally violate the rules as was done and the evidence clearly showed in this situation, there are going to be consequences.

KELLY: That's Travis Tygart. He is CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

TYGART: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.