Russian track and field athletes will skip the Olympic Games in Rio this summer after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) on Friday decided to keep a ban in place preventing them from participating in international competitions. Rune Andersen, chair of IAAF’s task force, explained the decision:
“In particular, the deep-seated culture of tolerance, or worse, for doping, that got Russian Athletes Federation suspended in the first place appears not to have been changed materially, to date. The head coach of the Russian athletic team and many of the athletes on that team appear unwilling to acknowledge the nature and extent of the doping problem in Russian athletics, and certain athletes and coaches appear willing to ignore the doping rules. A strong and effective anti-doping infrastructure capable of detecting and deterring doping has still not been created.”
The suspension was imposed on Russian Athletes in November of last year following a number of accusations of state-sponsored doping incidents, primarily disclosed by an independent report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). WADA launched an independent commission in December 2014 to investigate allegations made in a German documentary titled “The Secrets of Doping: How Russia Makes its Winners“. The film alleged doping and corrupt practices around sample collection and results management.
11 months later, WADA presented a report that detailed “deeply rooted culture of cheating at all levels” of Russian sport. CNN made a list of the five most shocking allegations. It implicated athletes, coaches, doctors, laboratory personnel and even the state itself. The report stated that the FSB was deeply involved in the scheme, and that it used intimidation tactics against a Moscow laboratory that tested samples for evidence of doping. Grigory Rodchenkov, who was head of the laboratory at the time, was named as an “aider and abettor of the doping activities”, and was accused of destroying more than 1,400 testing samples despite WADA demands that he preserve them.
Dr. Rodchenkov handled testing for thousands of Olympians at the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014, and shortly after the Olympics, he was awarded the prestigious Order of Friendship by Russian President Vladimir Putin. But after the WADA report came out, Rodchenkov resigned and moved to Los Angeles.
Last month, in an interview to The New York Times, Rodchenkov disclosed that dozens of Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, including at least 15 medal winners, were part of a state-run doping program, meticulously planned for years to ensure dominance at the Games:
In a dark-of-night operation, Russian antidoping experts and members of the intelligence service surreptitiously replaced urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean urine collected months earlier, somehow breaking into the supposedly tamper-proof bottles that are the standard at international competitions, Dr. Rodchenkov said. For hours each night, they worked in a shadow laboratory lit by a single lamp, passing bottles of urine through a hand-size hole in the wall, to be ready for testing the next day, he said.
Grigory Rodchenkov also stated that he was forced to resign by Russian officials and had to leave Russia fearing for his safety.
Russia’s Sport Minister Vitaly Mutko called The New York Times’ revelations “a continuation of the information attack on Russian sport” in an official statement released to the media. Shortly thereafter, he said he was “very sorry” cheating athletes were not caught by the country’s anti-doping procedures and systems, but would still not admit the scheme had been state-sponsored.
Earlier this week WADA issued a new report with even stronger accusations. The document says that anti-doping officials in Russia are being stopped from testing athletes and are also being threatened by security services. In particular, the BBC reports that WADA found out that:
- 73 of 455 tests on athletes could not be collected;
- 736 tests were declined or cancelled;
- 23 tests were missed, which the report says is a “significant amount”;
- and 52 findings were adverse.
Based on all this IAAF made the decision yesterday to not lift the ban from international competitions imposed on Russian athletes. However, individual athletes can compete as neutrals if they prove they are clean. Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva said she would challenge the IAAF’s decision in court, claiming it was “a human rights violation”.
Presumably in response, Russia’s Investigative Committee opened an investigation against Rodchenkov, alleging “abuse of power”.
Russian columnists have noted that the ruling makes only athletes take the fall for state-sponsored fraud, and that high-profile Russian officials, including Minister Mutko, will still march in the opening ceremony waving flags. However, the World Olympic Committee still has to decide the final destiny of Russia’s representation at the Rio Games: a decision on whether to ban the whole team will be handed down on June 21st at a meeting in Lausanne.