Putin seeks way out doping scandal

Vladimi Putin, in Sochi, on Wednesday (11 November). [The Kremlin]

President Vladimir Putin said yesterday (11 November) that Russia needed to conduct its own investigation into allegations its athletes had systematically taken performance-enhancing substances.

Russia faces being banned from the 2016 Olympics in Rio, after an investigation revealed state-sponsored doping “sabotaged” the 2012 Olympics, in London.

In his first comments since an independent commission from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) levelled the accusations, Putin said Russia needed to cooperate with international organisations looking into the issue as openly as it could.

“I ask the minister of sport, and all our colleagues who are linked in one way or another with sport to pay this issue the greatest possible attention,” Putin said ahead of a meeting with athletic officials in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

“It is essential that we conduct our own internal investigation and provide the most open – and I want to underline – the most open professional cooperation with international anti-doping structures.”

A black belt in Judo, Putin, who has built much of his own image on Russia’s sporting prowess, said the problem of doping was not only confined to Russia, and that his country had a duty to protect its athletes from banned substances.

“The battle must be open. A sporting contest is only interesting when it is honest,” said the Russian leader, adding that if problems were found, someone would have to personally assume responsibility for the issue.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commission on Monday (9 November) alleged widespread corruption and collusion by Russian officials, including state security services, to cover up drug test results, destroy samples and intimidate laboratory staff.

The report recommended that the All-Russia Athletics Federation (ARAF) be suspended from international athletics.

What WADA’s report says

The WADA commission was set up after Germany’s ARD television said in a documentary program aired on 3 December last year that it had found evidence of systematic doping and cover-ups.

  • The IC said it had identified a “deeply-rooted culture of cheating”; exploitation of athletes; “consistent and persistent” use of performance-enhancing drugs by “many” Russian athletes; involvement by doctors, coaches and laboratory staff; and corruption and bribery “at the highest levels of international athletics”.
  • The report identified “systematic failures within the IAAF and Russia that prevent or diminish the possibility of an effective anti-doping program”. 
  • The report found “organized efforts on the part of many senior coaches and officials, inside and outside Russia, to promote doping and make it possible for such efforts to be successful” and said that “evidence exists that confirms that coaches have attempted to manipulate or interfere with doping reports and testing procedures”.
  • The WADA-accredited Moscow laboratory is “unable to act independently”, according to the report, which recommended that WADA withdraw its accreditation of the Moscow laboratory “as soon as possible”.
  • A WADA audit team which visited the Moscow laboratory after the ARD program was aired determined that 1,417 samples had been disposed of and removed. “This was done on a Saturday morning immediately prior to the arrival in Moscow of a WADA audit team,” the report said.
  • The presence of security services in the Moscow laboratory, and in the Sochi laboratory during the 2014 Winter Games, “actively imposed an atmosphere of intimidation on laboratory process and staff”. It said: “The direct interference into the laboratory operation’s by the Russian State significantly undermines the laboratory’s operations.
  • The WADA commission found “strong corroborating evidence” that the Moscow laboratory had been involved in a “widespread cover-up of positive doping tests”.
  • The report recommended lifetime bans against five athletes, four coaches and one doctor, not previously the subject of IAAF proceedings.
  • According to the report, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) “had a practice of providing advance notice of out-of-competition tests”. This helped athletes avoid being tested, it said. Russian doping control officers “routinely accept bribes from the athletes, thereby ensuring the doping control test will not be effective” and also suffer the effects of “intimidation”.
  • The report listed numerous cases of athletes refusing to co-operate with IC investigators and that “coaches were complicit in attempting to prevent access to athletes for testing”. Athletes were instructed to record information which was not true.
  • Due to the general situation “an athlete’s choice was frequently limited to accepting the prescribed and mandated doping regime or not being a member of the national team”.
  • Coaches “wrongfully encouraged” athletes into believing that other nations followed similar programs.

The IOC said competitors, coaches or officials mentioned in the WADA report, who were proven to have violated doping regulations, should be punished and stripped of any medals.

“The IOC has asked the IAAF to initiate disciplinary procedures against all athletes, coaches and officials who have participated in the Olympic Games and are accused of doping in the report of the independent commission,” it said in a statement.

“With its zero-tolerance policy against doping, following the conclusion of this procedure, the IOC will take all the necessary measures and sanctions with regard to the withdrawal and re-allocation of medals and, as the case may be, exclusion of coaches and officials from future Olympic Games.”

World athletics head under formal investigation

The former global athletics head Lamine Diack, who is under investigation in France on suspicion of corruption and money laundering, was also provisionally suspended by the IOC and resigned as International Athletics Foundation (IAF) chief.

Diack, who stepped down as IAAF chief in August, last week was placed under formal investigation by French authorities.

The office of France’s financial prosecutor claims he received over €1 million in bribes in 2011 to cover up positive doping tests of Russian athletes.

While the current scandal has focused primarily on Russia, Kenya is another country facing possible action from WADA if it does not make serious efforts to tackle doping.

The chairman of Kenya’s Olympic committee said on Tuesday the country needed to act swiftly to prevent its athletes being banned at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Several Kenyans have failed doping tests in recent years, staining the reputation of the East African country, whose middle and long-distance runners have been among some of the globe’s most dominant athletes.

Last week, WADA threatened Kenya with a four year ban unless it improved its efforts to catch cheats, but Kipchoge Keino, a Kenyan running great and chairman of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK), said government officials had shown little stomach to chase down offenders.

“I have personally tried to reach government officials to agree on how to act on this menace but I don’t get appointments. I make calls that are unanswered,” Keino told Reuters.

Another way to sanction Russia?

As tensions between Russia and the West are still at critical heights, many Russians tend to believe that the WADA revelations are yet another political hit-job.

Economic sanctions against Moscow, enacted by the US, the EU and other allies after Russia annexed Crimea and supported an insurgency in eastern Ukraine, have only reinforced a collective feeling of being constantly victims of Western hostility.

Olympic speed skater Svetlana Zhurova, who’s now deputy head of the parliamentary committee for international affairs, said that the investigation was a plot against her compatriots.

The EU has has representation in WADA, and issues such as the fight against match-fixing and the fight against doping have been often discussed between EU sports ministers and WADA representatives.

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