The most serious scandal since the infamous East German doping program of the 1960s and 1970s exploded this morning when an investigation by an independent commission formed by the World Anti-Doping agency (WADA) announced it has found pervasive state-sponsored doping in Russia, and a conspiracy within the governing body for track and field to cover up instances of doping by Russian athletes.
Yet, despite the wealth of evidence, the repercussions to Russia might be slight, with only a short-term suspension of its track and field athletes from international competition. During a press conference to announce the findings, Richard Pound, a former head of WADA and a current International Olympic Committee member, outlined a Dorian Grey picture of Russian sports, especially its track and field program—the only sport the commission had a mandate to investigate. But Irish reporter David Walsh spoke for many when he pressed Pound about what repercussions Russia might face. Though the commission recommends that the Russian track and field body be suspended from international competition, the report leaves open the door that quick “reform” would enable Russia to compete again, possibly in a few months.
According to the WADA code, if an individual athlete, like, say, Lance Armstrong (who Walsh pursued via his own investigations for years) did what Russia is accused of doing, he or she would be banned for life to say nothing of a two or four-year ban commonly handed down in doping conspiracy cases. “The IOC’s commercial values” exceeds its stated ethical sport values, Walsh said, referring to the importance of Russia to the Olympic games.
Pound pushed back, denying Walsh’s premise, but went on to say that compliance was the goal, not “eye-for-an-eye” punishment. He explicitly left the door open for Russia, and Russian track and field, to compete in Rio less than one year from now. As for the individuals, mainly coaches and doping officials, implicated in the report, the commission recommends sporting bans up to life. WADA will investigate and pursue the cases if it agrees with the commission’s findings, which seems likely.
Other implications are enormous. While this investigation focused on Russia and track and field, suspicions have long swirled around Jamaica, Kenya, Ethiopia, and other countries and other sports. The headline attractions of the IOC’s Olympic Games are all now suspect, and the overall efficacy of the 15-year-old anti-doping system, a system put in place by international treaty, has been found severely inadequate in the face of organized doping.
Here, some details you need to know:
This Isn’t a Secret in Russia
Starting with the Russian federal security service, the FSB, and trickling down to individual coaches and athletes, Russian doping has been well-organized and well-known within athletics, Russia’s own anti-doping lab, Russia’s track and field federation, and the Russian ministry of sport, the report, released this morning, concludes. The program was allegedly enforced through intimidation, bribes, and payoffs.
One doping control officer told the commission that he had to sneak out a hotel window to deliver samples taken at a training facility in the town of Saransk. The police monitored the officer in Saransk and awaited the arrival of the officer’s train from Saransk to Moscow. So the officer “...left the hotel by the window during the night in order to take another train. (I left the light and the TV working in a room, so they could imagine I’m inside).” In retaliation, the officer’s mother received threatening phone calls.
The Cover-Up Runs Deep
Russia’s WADA-accredited doping lab in Moscow not only received direct instructions on the testing of samples, including covering up possible positive doping tests from the Russian Ministry of Sport, but the FSB embedded agents inside the lab itself. “Specifically,” the reports states, “Moscow laboratory personnel have reported, under confidentiality, regarding the continued presence of the Russian security (FSB). ‘[L]ast time in Sochi, we had some guys pretending to be engineers in the lab but actually they were from the federal security service; let’s call it the new KGB; FSB.’”
“The [Independent Commission] concludes,” the report states, “there was direct intimidation and interference by the Russian state with the Moscow laboratory operations.”
Allegations of Bribery
In a conversation secretly recorded by 800-meter runner Yuliya Stepanova with Vladimir Mokhnev, a coach from the All Russia Athletics Federation, the country’s track and field governing body, Mokhenov describes a payoff.
MOKHNEV: In Russia catching on blood passport as well. Khaleyeva is now, again was caught. Did you know that? There were many of them.
STEPANOVA: She said that she is warned and not sanctioned; supposedly, it’s ok for the first time.
MOKHNEV: They paid a lot. I think they all paid about 50,000 rubles.
He later discussed how Russian officials learned to avoid trouble with the Athletes’’ Biological Passport, a record of physiological parameters meant to indicate doping, especially with substances like EPO, the hard-to-detect red blood cell booster.
MOKHNEV: Well, we passed it on the 30th day, we tried and we passed. Parabolan… With Kupina on Parabolan last year we passed doping control on the 15th day. Everyone was doing it on the 21st day and we did it on the 15th day. Well, I had to pay 7,000 rubles for the sample.
“In particular,” the commission report concludes, “this investigation has revealed that deceit, corruption, collusion and extortion were the rules by which ARAF played the doping game.”
IAAF Will Be Forced to Walk Back Denials
WADA was prompted to investigate the Russian system after the German TV network ARD released a devastating investigative report last December. The IAAF refuted the ARD report, with newly elected chief Sebstian Coe calling it an “attack” on the sport. Russia flatly denied it. It has already called these latest findings “political.”
But the sheer accumulation of nuggets uncovered by ARD, and now the independent commission make for damning reading.
Other highlights of the investigation, which was sparked not by WADA itself, but by a December 2014 report from the German TV network ARD, include the following:
- There is a second doping lab in Moscow. The commission suspects this lab is used to analyze samples before the samples are forwarded to the official WADA accredited lab as a pre-screen to check for any positives.
- Russian doping control officers routinely accept bribes from athletes and coaches.
- The director of the official Moscow lab, Grigory Rodchenkov, was paid “indirectly” by an athlete to cover up a positive sample.
- The Moscow lab destroyed 1,417 samples in an effort to stymie the commission’s investigation.
- Russian athletes who should have ben banned wound up competing in the 2012 London Olympics. For example, race walker Olga Kaniskina won a silver medal in London in the 20 km walk.
- Unnamed leaders of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) have displayed “a consistent disregard for ethical bhavior.” They have engaged in “a conspiracy to conduct and conceal corrupt behavior.”
The commission did not name those leaders, though leaked information, now widely reported, points to former IAAF chief Lamine Diack and his son Papa Massatta Diack, a former IAAF marketing consultant for accepting payoffs to cover up positive tests. Lamine Diack has denied the accusations. The commission has forwarded its findings to French police and the international law enforcement body Interpol.