Doping scandals in Russian Sports

In attempts to beat rivals and get the best results, various means are resorted to in sports: grueling workouts, studying opponent's tactics, high-quality equipment, high-paid coaches, "legionnaires", naturalized athletes and so on. However, some of the means on the path to victory are prohibited, for example, doping. In recent years, scandals surrounding this issue do not concern Russian athletes very seriously.
25.07.2016
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Doping scandals are frequent, athletes around the world get involved in it. A recent Russian story concerning a string of doping scandals began in 2014 with Russian athletes at the Olympic Training Center of Race Walking in Saransk. On January 4, 2014, Elena Lashmanova, who set a world record in race walking at a distance of 20 kilometers at the Olympic Games in London in 2012, was tested during the non-competition controls. The sample came back positive: the metabolites GW1516, a substance used against obesity as a metabolic stimulant were found in the athlete’s body. Under the supervision of the World Anti-Doping Agency, their Russian colleagues (RUSADA) started investigation and found out that about 15-20 athletes had similar results. Lashmanova and several other athletes were disqualified for a while, the coach Viktor Chegin retired, and the Presidium of the All-Russian Athletics Federation approved the resignation of the head of the organization, Valentina Balakhnicheva, in February 2015.

Sergey Elkn's caricature on the doping-scandal
Sergey Elkn's cartoon on the doping-scandal

At the beginning of 2014, before the Olympic Games in Sochi, three biathletes from Russia were caught out using drugs. Irina Starykh and Ekaterina Yurieva were going to be capped after showing good results with the start of the season, but after a positive test for a drug (namely, recombinant erythropoietin, which improves the delivery of oxygen to the muscles) they were disqualified for 3 and 8 years, respectively. Then, Alexander Loginov was caught using the same drug, he was suspended from competition for three years.

Ex-director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory Grigory Rodchenkov
Ex-director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory Grigory Rodchenkov

Furthermore, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency also became an object of intense interest in 2014. It was accused of helping the athletes conceal positive doping samples preventing the relevant checks. WADA based these charges on its own investigation, relying on data, which included the documentary film "Top-Secret Doping. How Russia makes its winners” by the German journalist Hajo Zeppelt. In this film, aired on December 3, 2014 on the main public channel in Germany, Das Erste, the ex-chief specialist of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) Vitaly Stepanov and his wife, the former athlete disqualified for doping, said that almost 99 percent of Russian athletes have used doping. They also disclosed many other details that were seriously damaging to Russian sports officials, doctors, anti-doping laboratories, coaches and the athletes in general. For example, Vitaliy and Yuliya Stepanov claimed that senior sports officials and representatives of the Russian athletics federation have supplied athletes illegal drugs in exchange for 5 percent of their earnings, while being in cahoots with employees of the doping control services, while being in cahoots with the employees of the doping control services, who falsify tests and cover those caught with the positive results. And in late 2014, on the eve of the Russia’s examination by the WADA, on the orders of the Director of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, almost five hundred athletes’ samples were destroyed.

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Film by Hajo Zeppelt "Top-Secret Doping. How Russia makes its winners"

This film was immediately followed by a long series of trials, lawsuits, dismissals and suspensions. Some people, for example, the State Duma Deputy Nikolai Valuev and the Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, considered this campaign to be a deliberate provocation by West in order to discredit Russian sports, in addition to sanctions against Russia, and other tools for political pressure. Despite the fact that no proper evidence was disclosed, it is necessary to assume that the suspicion may be not unfounded. On December 16, 2015, the Basmanny Court of Moscow, satisfied the anti-defamation lawsuit of the Russian Federation of Athletics against the authors of the film of the German TV station ARD on systematic doping of Russian athletes. According to sports lawyer Artem Patseva, the representatives of the German journalist Hajo Zeppelt and ARD television in court said they considered the statements contained in the films about doping in Russia to be untrue. When questioned about the evidence in specific cases of violations by the athletes and sports officials mentioned in the film, the representatives of the channel, and the filmmaker replied that the information, from a former professional member of RUSADA, was not checked by them. On June 8, a new film was aired, saying that in 2014, Vitaly Mutko and his Deputy Yuri Nagornykh may have been involved in the concealment of a positive doping test for one of the players of the Russian Krasnodar club. On June 10, 2016, the media reported that the journalist was involved in a scuffle with the crew of Russia channel in response to a question about the evidence of the guilt of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko talking of the doping-scandal

At the end of 2015, a number of members of the media, for example, BBC, began reporting on the decision of the World Anti-Doping Agency Commission to recommend the International Association of Athletics Federations to disqualify the All-Russian Athletics Federation for systematic violations associated with the use of doping by athletes. It still threatens with the removal of Russian athletes from participating in several competitions, such as the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Things took a more serious turn on May 12th, 2016, after the publication of the interview with the former Head of Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory Grigory Rodchenkov in The New York Times. Rodchenkov said that during the Olympic Games in Sochi, dozens of Russian athletes, including gold medalists, had used performance enhancing drugs. He named three medal winners: the bobsledder Alexander Zubkov, the skier Alexander Legkov, and the skeletonist Alexander Tretyakov. According to Rodchenkov, he took part in providing substitute urine tests for athletes, and was helped, he said, by the security officials, most likely, the FSB. Rodchenkov himself was forced to flee Russia for the US not long after the November report by WADA.

Russian athletes' doping results in different sports
Russian athletes' doping results in different sports

Shortly after, the news broke that the Minister of Sport, Vitaly Mutko, had apologized for the doping scandal. On May 15, 2016 in an article from the British newspaper The Sunday Times, Mutko acknowledged that "serious mistakes were made by the management of the All-Russian Athletics Federation, as well as by the athletes and coaches who have violated anti-doping rules and, for the sake of momentary success, disregarded the principles of fair play so fundamental for sports". Altogether, this allows us to say that despite the fact that the instigator of the scandal (journalist Zeppelt) did not present any tangible evidence, except for the testimony of the former anti-doping expert and the athlete, the confession of the Head of the largest Federal State Unitary Enterprise "Anti-Doping Center" is still reasonable ground for suspicion. And if before Rodchenkov’s interview it was possible to assume that the Russian side has just decided to choose different tactics, which is to admit guilt in any case to get leniency for the athletes, who are going to perform at the Summer Olympics in Brazil, then the honesty of Russian sports officials’ and doctors’ is once again a big question.

In 2016, the doping scandal got a new story. On March 7, 2016, the Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova admitted that she had failed a doping test during the Australian Open competition. The reason turned out to be a drug "Mildronat", also known as "meldonium". WADA declared this substance illegal on September 16, 2015 and the ban came into effect from the January 1, 2016. The medication itself, according to Sharapova, was recommended to her some ten years ago by the family doctor because of the first signs of diabetes. As a result, several advertising contracts with the Russian tennis player have been suspended (Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche), Sharapova herself has been disqualified for two years. Sharapova considers the punishment too harsh and expressed her intention to appeal against this decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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Maria Sharapova Fails Drug Test
 
Maria Sharapova lost some of the contracts due to her confession
Maria Sharapova lost some of the contracts due to her confession

The inventor of meldonium, the Latvian biochemist Ivar Kalvin, calls the scandal surrounding the drug “nonsense and speculation”. He states that this drug was incorrectly attributed to doping and said the ban of mildronat was a "political game".

Note

Meldonium was produced in mid-1970s by a group of scientists in the Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis. Initially, this substance was used for the control of plant growth and to stimulate the growth of animals and poultry, however, afterwards the potential for clinical use was found out. During the tests, the drug’s property to maintain the energy metabolism of the heart and other organs was found. In the 80s, meldonium was used by Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan.

The case of Maria Sharapova may be one of the biggest, but it is not the only one. Traces of meldonium were also found in special samples of six more Russian athletes. Among them includes the cyclist of the team "Katyusha" Eduard Vorganov, the figure skater Ekaterina Bobrova, the speed skater Pavel Kulizhnikov, the short trackist Semen Yelistratov, the volleyball player Alexander Markin, and the biathlete Eduard Latypov. This situation has also affected foreign athletes: similar positive samples were found in the runners Abeba Aregawi (Sweden), Gamze Bulut (Turkey), Endeshaw Negesso (Ethiopia), as well as Artem Tishchenko and Olga Abramova, representing Ukraine in the biathlon.

How is it that the athletes were not warned of the banned drugs? The State Duma deputy Irina Rodnina, three-time Olympic figure skating champion, believes that Sharapova should not be solely responsible for a positive doping test. "Their claims are more likely to be addressed to doctors and managers because they need to monitor this more. Once they accompany an athlete everywhere, they need to observe and see all these problems", quotes RIA Novosti the words of the Deputy. The captain of the Russian tennis team Anastasia Myskina shows solidarity with her. The Head of the State Duma Committee on Physical Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs Dmitry Svishchev claims that the responsibility for the taking of illicit drugs should be taken not only by the athletes, but also by the coach, the doctor and the Head of the Federation.

Irina Rodnina talking of meldonium
Irina Rodnina talking of meldonium

Here, we have to admit, the situation is not as clear as in the previous case. If the honor and dignity of the Sochi Olympics and the admission of Russian athletes to the Summer Olympics in Rio are at stake, here a variety of athletes, including the foreign ones are affected. They can hardly be accused of deliberate use of meldonium in order to win dishonestly, after all, the drug was prohibited not so long ago. 

The plan of the laboratory where the fraud took place
The plan of the laboratory where the fraud took place

The fact whether it is the deliberate knowledge of taking an illegal performance enhancing drug, or just a medicine is also challenged. However, a shadow of suspicion has fallen over Russian sports, which greatly questions Russia’s performance at the next Olympic Games.

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