Demonising Justin Gatlin
13th September 2015
The 97-page Independent Person (IP) Report compiled by Richard McLaren for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) not only provided conclusive evidence of state-sanctioned doping in all Russian sports, but also implicated the Russian Ministry of Sport, the Russian Olympic Committee and WADA itself. As such, Russia could face a blanket ban from the Rio 2016 Games, which starts in 18 days time. At present, only the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) is banned from international competition – Russians can compete in other sports if they can prove that they are clean.
“The IOC will not hesitate to take the toughest sanctions available against any individual or organisation implicated”, said International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach in a statement. The IOC Executive Board will meet via teleconference tomorrow to take decisions, which ‘may include provisional measures and sanctions with regard to the Olympic Games Rio 2016’.
The report was commissioned to investigate May allegations by Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov that the laboratory at the Sochi 2014 Olympics was corrupt. These were dismissed by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (SKR), which attempted to portray Rodchenkov as a sole actor motivated by profit. ‘Accusations against Russian athletes are built on the testimony of one man’, read a Kremlin statement issued today. ‘A man with a scandalous reputation’. The statement reiterated that a criminal case against Rodchenkov regarding violations of anti-doping regulations, dropped due to lack of evidence in 2012, had recently been reopened.
However, not only did the IP Report corroborate his claims as credible, it also found that a similar system was in operation at the Moscow laboratory, under the control of the Russian Ministry of Sport and the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). Rodchenkov’s claims – which read like something from a bad spy novel – were that samples of listed Russian elite athletes were switched through a hole in the wall at the Sochi laboratory; that a ‘cocktail’ of drugs was developed using Chivas whisky for men and Martini for women in order to avoid detection; that state police (FSB) supervised the opening of sample bottles to facilitate the switching of samples.
The IP Report found all of these claims to hold true, but went further in suggesting that a plan was in place to blame the laboratory and its employees if state doping were uncovered. ‘It appears that the system was designed so that if its actions were revealed, the Moscow laboratory could be jettisoned without damaging or revealing other part of the drug cheating programme’, it reads. ‘In the case of discovery, the jaws of the vice would close and any convenient explanation blaming the Moscow laboratory would operate to cover up the rest of the State run system’.
The IP Report found that Russia’s Ministry of Sport, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) and the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) led a ‘failsafe mechanism’ to allow the transformation of a positive analytical result into a negative result. This was only brought into play if ‘all the operational precautions to promote and permit doping by Russian athletes proved to have been ineffective’. Manipulation of the Moscow and Sochi laboratories was only a back-up, but an extensive one.
The IP Report found that Russia’s Deputy Minister of Sport, Yuri Nagornykh, decided which positive tests would disappear, and favoured successful or promising Russian athletes. Nagornykh is also a board member of the ROC. The Moscow laboratory would conduct an initial screening of samples, and Nagornykh would give the order to ‘save’ or ‘quarantine’. A ‘save’ order meant that the sample was reported as negative in WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS). A list of 37 athletes under state protection was prepared by the Centre of Sports Preparation (CSP) for the Russian national teams prior to Sochi 2014. Athletes were instructed to photograph the sample collection bottles to facilitate the ‘swapping’ process implemented at Sochi.
In April, Natalia Zhelanova was promoted to become Anti-Doping Advisor to Russia’s Minister of Sport, Vitaly Mutko. The IP Report implicated her as being involved in the state doping scheme from 2012. This ties in with evidence suggesting that she had interfered with the doping control process.
In the case of the Sochi laboratory, the IP Report found that FSB agents monitored WADA employees in order that those swapping samples would be forewarned if WADA decided to pay a visit. Sochi laboratory employees hid samples in coat pockets. FSB agents were involved in both the Sochi and Moscow laboratories, the IP Report found.
The Kremlin confirmed that all those named in the report would be suspended from office until the completion of an investigation. However in order to complete such an investigation, it asked for WADA to provide its evidence.
The IP Report was at pains to point out that it had not seen the method allegedly used by the FSB to open the sample bottles, however it did have evidence that this could be – and had been – done. Not only was this method used during Sochi 2014, but also to cover up positive samples in December 2014, when WADA had advised that they would be removed from Moscow for further analysis. Similar sample swapping also took place during the 2013 Moscow IAAF World Championships.
‘Evidence of tampering’ was found on the Sochi 2014 and December 2014 sample bottles seized by WADA. A ‘scratches’ and marks’ expert demonstrated to McLaren how the caps could be removed. McLaren dismissed that this presented a concern ahead of Rio 2016. “The bottles are tamper evident”, he said at today’s press conference. “With relatively easy training, people can identify if there is problem with the samples in Rio”.
The FSB staff member responsible for opening the sample bottle caps was Evgeny Blokhin, who had access to the laboratory as an accredited person under cover of being a sewerage and plumbing employee of building contractor, Bilfinger. Of the 12 bottles found to have been tampered with, four involved athletics; wrestling two; weightlifting two; plus one bottle each for taekwondo, skating, sailing and judo. Of 11 sample bottles sent to Lausanne for selected analysis of tampering, 100% had been tampered with.
The IP Report found that Irina Rodionova played a ‘coordinating role’ in the state doping system. She was a Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) staff member at the Sochi 2014 Olympics and has since been promoted to Deputy Director of the CSP.
Rodionova was also accused of keeping the ‘disappearing positive’ methodology going during the WADA Independent Commission investigation during 2015. This was despite Nagornykh’s wish to shut it down due to risk of discovery. The IP Report also found that Rodionova was responsible for delivering Rodchenkov’s ‘cocktail’ to athletes. As previously mentioned, Russian Deputy Minister of Sport, Nagornykh, is also a board member of the ROC.
The extent of sample manipulation was shocking. The IP Report found that during the 2012-2015 period, the ‘disappearing positive’ methodology was used on 643 samples and that this was a minimum number, given limited access to Russian records. The IP report found evidence of its use in 30 different sports. ‘Russian athletes from the vast majority of summer and winter Olympic sports benefitted from the disappearing positive methodology’, it read.
The IP Report found that clean urine was poured into the opened sample bottles and to avoid detection, salt was added to raise the specific gravity of the clean urine to match that recorded on the Doping Control Form (DCF). On analysis, some of these had self content six times higher than what could be expected in a normal healthy human. Sometimes the DNA in the tampered urine samples didn’t match that of the athlete involved – especially in samples that had been doctored specifically for a WADA visit in December 2014.
While test result manipulation mainly applied to athletes from Russia, it also applied to athletes from other countries on occasion. It also applied to youth sports, where 32 athletes at the 2013 Kazan University Games were identified as having doped. It applied to football, where the IP Report found that the order to ‘save’ the athlete was given by Minister of Sport, Vitaly Mutko. Mutko is President of the Russian football federation, a FIFA Council member and is Chairman of the organising committee for the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The IP Report also highlighted that Russian athletes and laboratory staff had little choice but to comply with the state-run doping system. At today’s press conference, McLaren said that athletes who didn’t participate in state doping didn’t get access to the best facilities or coaches. It also found that laboratory staff were ‘not permitted to act independently of any instructions that were funnelled down to them from the MofS’.
The IP Report identified ‘dozens’ of athletes involved in doping, however given the time frame of 57 days, it decided to prioritise the systemic allegations rather than attempt to follow up anti-doping rule violations. However, the 30 sports identified where sample manipulation had occurred included DNA evidence of a female athlete who had taken a gold and silver medal. ‘The urine in her sample had come from two different people’, read the IP Report. ‘Again, her bottle showed signs of tampering in the consistent places inside the cap’. The IP Report also found that ‘micro-doses’ of erythropoietin (EPO) were administered to athletes ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The IP Report also identified potential failures by WADA, the most glaring of which appears to be a failure to follow up on the fact that no Russian positives were reported from Sochi 2014 – a statistic that should have set alarm bells ringing. It also appears that WADA wrote to Rodchenkov on 7 December 2014 to warn him that a ‘surprise’ WADA inspection was to take place. This led to sample destruction on a huge scale.
In its initial report, WADA’s Independent Commission found that 1,417 samples had been destroyed at the Moscow laboratory. The IP report found that 8,000 of 10,000 samples held at the Moscow laboratory were destroyed. This meant that just 37 positives were left for which a negative report had been made in ADAMS by the time that WADA inspectors arrived. While the feasibility of ‘surprise’ investigations in Russia can be debated, this destruction could have been avoided or slowed if WADA had not sent Rodchenkov the letter.
Also, alarm bells about FSB involvement in the Sochi laboratory were ringing back in March 2014, however it appears that WADA didn’t hear them. As previously reported by The Sports Integrity Initiative, Russian state involvement in the Sochi lab didn’t go unnoticed by the WADA Independent Observer (IO) report. Had it followed up on this when the IO Report was released, systemic Russian doping may have been detected earlier.
The IP Report also appears to have failed to follow up links between the Moscow and Lausanne laboratories. As previously reported by The Sports Integrity Initiative, the first WADA Independent Commission was especially critical of the explanation given by Martial Saugy, Director of the Lausanne laboratory, as to why he destroyed 67 samples sent from Russia which he was asked to retain. This action is not explored at all in the IP Report.
However, it does include a January 2015 report prepared by Rodchenkov for Mutko, which emphasised links between the laboratories. Saugy, who acted as a paid consultant during Sochi 2014, is described by Rodchenkov as ‘very well related to Russia’. Rodchenkov says that Russia should work ‘skilfully’ with Saugy, as he has connections to IOC Medical Director Richard Budgett.
Also, The IP Report didn’t bother to talk to the Russian authorities. ‘I did not seek to meet with government officials and did not think it necessary having already done so with the IC with little benefit to that investigation’, writes McLaren. ‘I also received, unsolicited, an extensive narrative with attachments from one important government representative described in this Report. In the short time of 57 days that I was given to conduct this IP investigation, it was simply not practical and I deemed such interviewing would not be helpful based on my experience with the IC.’ That may be the case, but it opens the door to Russian criticism that they were not consulted in compiling the Report’s findings.
The IOC has already decided that only Russian athletes who can prove that they are not ‘tainted’ by the Russian state doping system will be able to compete in Rio. That position is unlikely to change, despite WADA urging it to consider a total Olympic ban for Russian athletes. However, the IP Report’s findings will make it even harder for Russian athletes to prove that they are clean, given that not only was Russian doping directed by the state, but its Olympic Association (ROA) and national team preparatory body (CSP) were involved as well.
The IP Report has also indicated that its work is not yet complete. McLaren said that he had received “important information” last Friday, which he had not had time to analyse ahead of the IP Report, and that he would like to review that information. The nature of that information is likely to come under intense speculation in the coming days.
Doping sanctions are also likely to follow. The IP Report said that it did not have time to formulate anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) cases against the athletes concerned, however other bodies are keen to take action. ‘The IAAF will of course seek further information on the 139 cases mentioned in the McLaren report and cross reference it with its own data’, read a statement. ‘To the extent that actions have not, or are not, being taken we will obtain the evidence and do any necessary follow up to allow us to take the strongest actions available to us. This includes all information that has been gathered around the 2013 World Championships as we have in storage in Lausanne the samples sent to the IAAF by the Moscow laboratory.’
The IP Report only concerned the back up system for failure to protect Russian athletes from detection, however it involved athletes in 30 sports. We have therefore yet to see how far down the rabbit hole Russian doping has disappeared and for how long. However, it appears that Russian dominance in certain sporting events has been built on a lie – and a big one at that.
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