Report: Russian government condones widespread cheating in track and field

Canadian Dick Pound, center, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Independent Commission, with IC members Richard McLaren, left, and Gunter Younger leave a press conference in Geneva on Monday after presenting the report on Russia’s doping scandal.
Canadian Dick Pound, center, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Independent Commission, with IC members Richard McLaren, left, and Gunter Younger leave a press conference in Geneva on Monday after presenting the report on Russia’s doping scandal. AP

A scandal evoking grim memories of the state-sponsored East German doping system has engulfed Russia’s track and field federation and could lead to a ban of its athletes from next summer’s Rio Olympics.

A 323-report with details on subterfuge that reads like something out of a Cold War spy novel issued Monday in Geneva by the World Anti-Doping Agency alleges extensive performance-enhancing drug use by athletes and cover-ups involving coaches, trainers, doctors, sports officials and even state security agents posing as lab technicians in order to sabotage urine and blood test results. The director of the lab in Moscow ordered the destruction of 1,417 samples, and FSB agents intimidated lab staff, who believed their offices were bugged.

Athletes adopted false identities to avoid random tests, used prize money to bribe officials to conceal positive tests and were blackmailed into making payments so they wouldn’t be turned in for doping, the report said.

“It’s worse than we thought,” said WADA founding president and report co-author Dick Pound. “It may be a residue of the old Soviet Union system. This is an old attitude from the Cold War days.”

The report indicated the Russian government was complicit in operating a system in which “acceptance of cheating at all levels is widespread.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin has aggressively courted major international events, such as the 2014 Sochi Olympics and 2018 World Cup, and touted Russia’s status as a sports superpower.

“It would be naïve in the extreme to conclude that activities on the scale discovered could have occurred without the explicit or tacit approval of Russian governmental authorities,” the report said.

Russian officials blamed a Western conspiracy against their country and jealousy of Russia’s success.

“Whatever we do, everything is bad,” Russia’s minister of sport, Vitaly Mutko, told Interfax. “If this whole system needs to shut down, we will shut it down gladly. We will only save money.”

Mutko sits on the executive committee of soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, which has been mired in its own corruption scandal. The Moscow lab that WADA recommended be closed is assigned to do drug testing during the 2018 World Cup. FIFA’s decision to award the World Cup to Russia is under investigation by Swiss authorities.

“The credibility of sport has taken some serious body blows in the last month,” Pound said. “Public opinion is going to move toward all sports being corrupt.”

Five Russian coaches and five athletes — including the gold and bronze medalists in the women’s 800-meter run at the London Olympics — should receive lifetime bans, the report said, and Russia should be suspended from track and field competition and excluded from track and field at the 2016 Olympics unless it takes immediate steps to reform a culture that looks suspiciously similar to the Soviet-style system that was overseen by the communist government.

“He certainly knew what was going on,” Pound said of Mutko. “They all knew.”

WADA’s commission began investigating in December after the German TV network ARD aired a report on corruption and doping in Russian track and field. Russian runner and three-time Chicago Marathon winner Liliya Shobukhova alleged that she was forced to pay $480,000 to track federation officials to suppress irregularities in her biological passport so she could compete in the London Olympics.

The crisis further tarnished the sport’s reputation in August when ARD and the Sunday Times of London reported leaked blood test results for endurance athletes showing negligence by track and field’s international governing body, the IAAF, which the IAAF has disputed. Kenya’s storied distance running tradition was damaged when Kenyan runners were implicated for testing positive. WADA’s commission is also investigating those allegations.

“In its considered view, Russia is not the only country nor athletics the only sport, facing the problem of orchestrated doping,” said the WADA panel, which has shared its evidence with Interpol.

The WADA report comes a week after French authorities launched a criminal investigation of Lamine Diack, former IAAF president. Diack, 82, of Senegal, faces charges of money laundering and corruption for taking payments of more than $1 million from the Russian federation to hide positive tests. Diack’s son and the IAAF’s former anti-doping chief are also targets of investigators.

“This report is going to be a real game-changer for sport,” Richard McLaren, a Canadian sports lawyer who collaborated on the report with Pound, said in a statement from Canada’s Western University. “Unlike FIFA where you have a bunch of old men who put a whole lot of extra money in their pockets, here you potentially have a bunch of old men who put a whole lot of extra money in their pockets — through extortion and bribes — but also caused significant changes to actual results and final standings of international athletics competitions. That is a whole different scale of corruption than the FIFA scandal or the IOC scandal in respect to Salt Lake City.”

British middle-distance running hero and House of Lords member Sebastian Coe succeeded Diack and pledged to clean up his sport, which has been plagued by doping scandals since the 1970s, when East German doctors engineered steroid regimens for athletes. When Canada’s Ben Johnson lost his 100-meter dash gold medal for doping at the 1988 Olympics, the sport suffered another blow. The parade of disgraced stars includes Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery and Justin Gatlin.

“These are dark days for our sport,” Coe told the BBC. “But I’m more determined than ever to rebuild the trust in our sport. It’s not going to be a short journey.”

WADA recommended lifetime bans for Russia’s endurance coach; 800-meter coach; middle distance coach; a racewalking coach; the head of the track federation’s medical commission who provided banned substances to athletes; and five female runners.

“Well, really, what should we do?” said Mariya Savinova, 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the 800, on a tape recording revealed in the report. “How should it go differently? That is our system and in Russia that only works only with pharma.”