Russia accused of doping cover-up in German documentary

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Based on information obtained from interviews and evidence supplied by former Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) employee Vitaliy Stepanov – which includes secretly-recorded conversations with numerous athletes and coaches — a German documentary has claimed that RUSADA covered up positive tests of prominent athletes in sports such as athletics, swimming, cycling, biathlon, weightlifting and nordic skiing.

The documentary, screened on German network MDR on Wednesday 3 December 2014, not only alleges that up to “99%” of the Russian Olympic team use doping but also that widespread corruption of RUSADA, doping control in Moscow and the International Association of Athletics Federations has enabled a coordinated cover-up of positive tests – including Valentin Balakhnichev the president of the All-Russia Athletics Federation and treasurer of the IAAF.

Yuliya Stepanova (nee Rusanova, a former 800m runner now banned for abnormalities in her biological passport and now married to former RUSADA employee Vitaliy Stepanov) says she was often encouraged by her coaches to keep “clean” urine samples in a freezer for tests and one secret recording shows her coach providing her with pills said to be Oxandrolone, which is a banned anabolic steroid.

“The coaches chose a girl, fed her pills and then she’d be off,” Stepanova said. “And the next day she’d be banned and then they’d say: ‘We’ll find a new one.’”

Her husband told the documentary that the RUSADA frequently received phone calls from the federation, asking to reveal the identity of athletes who had tested positive. “If it was an unknown athlete, the test remained positive,” he said, “but when it is someone famous, or someone young and a medal hopeful, then it’s a mistake, and it’s not reported.” 

“You have to dope, that’s how it works in Russia,” Stepanov said in a press release. “Functionaries and coaches tell you very clearly that you can only get so far with your natural skills. In order to get medals, you need help. And that help is doping.”

The film also displayed a video clip recorded on a mobile phone in the autumn of 2014 that shows Savinova (pictured above) saying: “How else are we meant to do it? That’s our system, and in Russia it only works with pharma”.

The 2012 Olympic 800m champion, who beat Jenny Meadows to world gold in 2010 as well as winning the world outdoor gold in 2011 and silver in 2013 went on to say: “luckily, my coach works with [one of the head coaches of the Russian athletics federation, Alexey] Melnikov, and he helps to cover up the tests. They let him swap the dates for the controls. And Oxandrolone leaves my body again very quickly. It takes less than 20 days.”

A WADA statement published in response to the German documentary read: “WADA has seen the German television documentary alleging systematic doping in Russia, and other breaches of the World Anti-Doping Code. WADA will ensure that all matters raised are fully investigated.

“WADA has in fact already received some information and evidence of the type exposed in the documentary. All of that information has been passed to the appropriate independent body within the international federation, the IAAF. We will await the outcome of that independent body’s deliberations.

“Insofar as the particular allegations against Russian authorities and others are concerned, these will all be carefully scrutinized and if action is warranted, WADA will take any necessary and appropriate steps under the Code.”

In another interview including within the documentary, Russian athlete Liliya Shobukhova, who has previously won both the London and Chicago marathons, claims that she paid the Russian athletics federation $450,000 in order to bribe her way into the 2012 Olympic Games despite submitting abnormal blood test results for the period 2009 to 2011.

When Shobukhova did not finish the race, she was banned by the federation who then paid her back a third of the money via a shell company. Evidence shown in the German documentary appears to show that Balakhnichev, was aware of the situation.

Nikita Kamaev, the director of RUSADA, has denied the allegations, stating on camera that his agency has always operated within the rules: “Allegations that Rusada swapped samples or accepted bribes do not correspond to reality at all.

“All athletes who make such claims have infringed with doping regulations in the past. Such people then contact journalists and tell stories. For professionals, such stories are only laughable.”

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First published on: 4 December, 2014 12:00 am

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