A Russian hacker collective known as Fancy Bear has released private medical information about several top-ranked American female athletes, including out WNBA star Elena Delle Donne and fellow Olympians Simone Biles and Venus Williams.
The World Anti-Doping Agency confirmed in a Tuesday statement that its Anti-Doping Administration and Management System had been illegally accessed by “a Russian cyber espionage group,” which “accessed athlete data, including confidential medical data” about several American athletes competing in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last month.
The hackers threatened to release additional information, warning that “this is just the tip of the iceberg,” reports Slate. They continued, “Today’s sport is truly contaminated while the world is unaware of a large number of American doping athletes.”
The allegation that American athletes were doping at the 2016 Games in Rio stems from the data released that shows certain athletes had received official approval to take prescribed medications that are banned as performance-enhancing drugs. Hackers accessed the World Anti-Doping Agency’s records of therapeutic use exemptions, which are essentially athlete petitions to use certain drugs for a legitimate medical condition. These exemptions are granted by international sports federations and national antidoping organizations, the agency’s statement explains.
Delle Donne, who had received such an exemption, plays guard and forward for the Chicago Sky, won a gold medal in Rio with the USA’s women’s basketball team, and was named the WNBA’s most valuable player in 2015. She came out publicly in early August.
The hackers’ information dump occurred just one day before Delle Donne was scheduled to have surgery on her thumb, prompting the out athlete to post this post-op photo, along with a snarky comment directed at the hackers:
Quick update! pic.twitter.com/5tuZNIpVLC
— Elena Delle Donne (@De11eDonne) September 13, 2016
In the wake of the leaked information, American gymnast Simone Biles took to Twitter to explain that she was diagnosed with attention deficity hyperactivity disorder as a child, takes a prescribed medication for that condition, and received a therapeutic use exemption from the antidoping agency. “Having ADHD and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of and nothing that I’m afraid to let people know,” she wrote Tuesday. That same day, USA Gymnastics released a statement confirming that Biles had received a therapeutic use exemption for her medication, following proper protocol for such treatment.
Similarly, Venus Williams issued a statement Tuesday saying she was “disappointed” to learn that her “private, medical data has been compromised by hackers and published without my permission.” Williams went on to explain that she also followed proper protocol in obtaining a therapeutic use exemption for a medication she uses to combat Sjorgren’s syndrome, which the Associated Press describes as “an energy-sapping disease.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency says it is investigating the hack and cooperating with relevant law enforcement agencies to put a stop to the leak. The agency’s official statement noted that the latest attack comes barely a month after an early August incident where hackers stole the password of Russian runner and doping whistle-blower Yulia Stepanova, a key witness in a recent investigation that uncovered Russia’s state-sponsored doping scheme during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. After alerting international officials to her home country’s athletic doping, Stepanova and her husband, who worked for Russia’s antidoping agency, fled the country and are now living in an undisclosed location in North America, according to the AP.