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Hackers Release Data On 25 More Athletes From 8 Countries

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The hackers who published confidential medical records of top U.S. Olympic athletes this week are at it again. Last night, the World Anti-Doping Agency confirmed that hackers said to be operating out of Russia released data on 25 more athletes from eight countries, including the U.S. and Russia. NPR's Tom Goldman says this week's incidents are potentially more damaging to international sport than originally thought.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The news at first was startling. Leaked records showed Olympic gymnastics star Simone Biles used a banned drug, so did tennis superstar Serena and Venus Williams. But all quickly were exonerated since they had legal exemptions allowing them to take the substances. Cases closed. It was just vengeful Russian computer hackers upset about all the Russian athletes banned for doping from the Rio Olympics. Maybe so. But sports doping historian John Hoberman says the hackers have stirred up something significant.

JOHN HOBERMAN: We are in the worst crisis international sports governance and international doping control has ever been in.

GOLDMAN: Hoberman says the act of hacking into the World Anti-Doping Agency's confidential drug testing data could create huge doubts in the minds of elite athletes.

HOBERMAN: If athletes will not give samples to WADA and have them tested and assume that the test results are secure in WADA computers, the system will grind to a halt because the athletes will refuse to cooperate.

GOLDMAN: And then there's the issue of those exemptions called therapeutic use exemptions or TUEs. They allow athletes to use banned drugs if the drugs are needed for illness or a condition. Biles says she used Ritalin since she was a kid for treating ADHD. Ritalin is banned in international sport. TUEs have come under scrutiny at times when unusually large numbers of athletes claim they have asthma or some other condition. South African sports scientist Ross Tucker says many TUEs are valid. But speaking via Skype, he questions whether they should be used at all.

ROSS TUCKER: You can't have these elite athletes represent the pinnacle of human physical capabilities and they are taking medication that would be prescribed to someone who is literally put off work in most instances and so sick that they're incapacitated. It just doesn't fit, you know?

GOLDMAN: Tucker says the hacking incident wouldn't raise questions if there were more trust in the anti-doping system. But, he says, there's not, and the questions will continue as the system already battered by the recent Russian doping scandal endures a cyber attack that keeps coming. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.