Russian hackers released the medical records of over 25 athletes, ten of whom were from the U.S.A., after breaking into the portals of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Earlier this week, athletes who were shown as having taken banned substances in the published records included artistic gymnast Simone Biles, basketball player Elena Delle Donne, and the tennis stars and sisters, Serena and Venus Williams.
However, most of these athletes had been given medical exemptions for taking drugs banned in the WADA manual in the light of the nature of the sports that they play and their various medical issues.
The WADA databases contain detailed records of every competitive professional athlete. This is not the first time that Russian hackers have broken into the records.
Ever since the Russian state-sponsored doping system received widespread censure from international anti-doping agencies and officials, leading to the Russian track and fields team being banned from participating in the Rio Olympics, hackers have been eager to use the online resource as a platform of revenge.
A month ago, a similar WADA break-in led to Russian hackers accessing the location of middle-distance runner Yuliya Stepanova. Perhaps fearing for her safety, Stepanova had received asylum in the U.S. after blowing the whistle on Russia’s state-funded doping program. As an athlete, she was required to register her location with WADA every day for out-of-competition doping tests. WADA acknowledged that the hackers had accessed her location register then, but Stepanova and her family moved to an undisclosed location soon enough, and they remain unharmed.
The most recent spate of cyber attacks has come from the hacker group or groups known as Tsar Team and Fancy Bear. The New York Times report on the hacking conjectures that the break-in was performed by the same group as the one that hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s servers ahead of the DNC convention.
Although these hacking groups allegedly have ties to the Russian government’s intelligence agency, the Kremlin has denied any involvement in these attacks.
According to a report on Vox, the published documents show that Simone Biles, whose four-gold medal and one bronze haul in the Rio Olympics established her as the greatest living artistic gymnast in the world, had tested positive for Ritalin.
The medicine is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Biles tweeted as much.
In the light of the breach and the controversy surrounding it, USA Gymnastics also showed their support for Biles with a statement.
USA Gymnastics statement regarding Simone Biles and WADA hack: pic.twitter.com/YTq2iVS7Vu— USA Gymnastics (@USAGym) September 13, 2016
While WADA has not named the other athletes whose confidential records were published, a report on CNN notes that other athletes affected by the Russian hackers are from Britain, Germany, Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland, Romania, and Russia.
The report quoted WADA’s director general, Olivier Niggli, who condemned the attack in no uncertain terms.
“WADA is very mindful that this criminal attack, which to date has recklessly exposed personal data of 29 athletes, will be very distressing for the athletes that have been targeted and cause apprehension for all athletes that were involved in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.”
Niggli also pointed out that the actions by the Russian hackers would make it very difficult for the international sports community to trust Russia once again.
The Russian hackers were quoted in the above mentioned NYT article as having said in their statement that while American athletes played well in the Olympics, they did not play fair. The hackers also promised newer batches of published records.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg. Today’s sport is truly contaminated while the world is unaware of the large number of American doping athletes.”
According to WADA, the Russian hackers have been using a method in which they send links to WADA email account holders. Once the link is clicked, it creates a path which is used to hack into the database.
[Image by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]