Demonising Justin Gatlin
13th September 2015
Most people haven’t heard of Norilsk. The Russian conurbation of around 200,000 people is the world’s northernmost city, located inside the Arctic Circle in the Krasnoyarsk Krai region of Russia. It is also the coldest. The temperature today was -23ºc during the polar night that envelopes the city from late November until early January, when the sun doesn’t rise. Temperatures have been known to drop below -50ºc. Average annual temperature is in the negative.
The historic reasons why anyone would endure such living conditions have their roots in the Soviet Gulag system, which established the Norillag labour camp in Norilsk in 1935. The camp was set up after the world’s largest nickel deposit was discovered in the area and people were needed to mine the element, as well as copper and palladium deposits. The camp was closed in 1956, after many thousands died from starvation and conditions related to the harsh environment.
Following the camp’s closure, people were still attracted to the city due to comparatively high wages and the availability of goods, especially in Soviet times. It is understood that today, people are tempted to endure the polar night because at US$1,000 per month, wages remain higher than average within Russia, workers receive 90 days holiday and are able to retire at 45.
However, there is a cost. Life expectancy is 60, ten years below the Russian average, due to the high levels of pollution caused by the world’s largest heavy metals smelting complex as well as the coal needed to power it and heat the city supplied by a nearby mine at Kayerkan. Every year, Norilsk Nickel is understood to produce 50% of the world’s palladium (crucial for mobile phones) and 20% of its nickel. It is also one of the world’s worst polluters, and Norilsk residents suffer from respiratory diseases due to it once producing more sulphur dioxide than the entire country of France.
Acid rain and smog are issues, destroying vegetation in a huge surrounding area. The amount of nickel, copper and cobalt that falls from the polluted sky has made it economically viable to employ a subcontractor to scoop up pollutant sludge and return it to the smelting plant to further extract metals. Last year, questions were asked of the company after pictures emerged of the Daldykan river, which had turned blood red.
The only feasible way in our out of the city for most of the year is via aeroplane. A railway is used to transport produce to Dudinka in the summer, after spring’s ice barrier floods have passed. The only road connects to nearby Talnakh and Kayerkan, and to the port of Dudinka, however for most of the year it remains impassible. Locals refer to the rest of the world as The Continent, due to Norilsk’s similarities to an island. It has been a closed city since 2001.
In 1995, Mikhail Prokhorov began his transformation of Norilsk Nickel from a State owned company into one of Russia’s most profitable companies. He sold his stake in 2008, which is understood to have made him one of the richest men in Russia. In 2011, he resigned his industrial positions to enter politics, however faced accusations that the party he was to head was set up by the Kremlin in order to provide the illusion of credible opposition.
He also spearheaded Norilsk Nikel’s investment in Russian sport, which continues today. The company is a partner of Russia’s Football Union (FUR) and national football team; a partner of the XXIX World Winter Universiade, which takes place in Krasnoyarsk in March 2019; and agreed a partnership with the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in May last year. This followed its sponsorship of the Russian team at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. The company also owns CSKA basketball club and the Norilsk Nickel Futsal club.
It is perhaps understandable that one of the world’s biggest polluters would wish to give something back to Russian society. Norilsk Nickel is understood to provide 2% of Russia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and to do that in the harsh Arctic climate has a cost on human life, as explained above. However, the company’s statements explain that it is a socially responsible company with a focus on public health. Apparently, nobody sees the heavily polluting company’s promotion of sport and a healthy lifestyle as a contradiction in terms.
“As Russia’s largest socially responsible company, Norilsk Nickel has traditionally supported important sports projects aimed at the development of mass sport and promotion of healthy lifestyles”, said Norilsk Nickel President Vladimir Ponatin in announcing its support of the ROC. ‘The support of high-performance and mass sports and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle are an important part of the Company’s social policy’, reads the company profile.
By now, readers will be wondering how this is connected to sport, or – more specifically – Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov and allegations of State doping in Russia. As previously mentioned, the former CEO of Norilsk Nikel is Mikhail Prokhorov, who is now owner of US basketball team Brooklyn Nets (formerly New Jersey Nets). Prokhorov was appointed President of the Russian Biathlon Union (RBU) in 2008, but was replaced by Alexander Kravtsov in May 2014, after the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
In a 52-page affidavit provided to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Schmid Commission (PDF below), Dr. Rodchenkov alleges that whilst he was RBU President, Prokhorov bribed biathlete Irina Starykh to keep quiet about being instructed to inject erythropoietin (EPO) by Stanislav (Statik) Dmitriev. He also alleged that half of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic biathlon team was under the control of Dmitriev, a ‘well known’ supplier of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), whom he named as the primary source of EPO for the Russian Winter Olympic team.
Prokhorov’s replacement as head of the RBU, Alexander Kravtsov, is head of the Centre of Sports Preparation for the National Teams of Russia (CSP). In his affidavit, Dr. Rodchenkov mentions the CSP as being involved in the management of Russia’s State doping programme. He also mentions Kravtsov as initiating discussions about half the biathlon team being under the control of the ROC’s PED supplier, Stastik Dmitriev.
Dr. Rodchenkov also mentions that Kravtsov was chief of Russia’s Olympic delegation at Sochi 2014, and informed him about the positive tests of biathletes Irina Starykh and Ekaterina Iourieva ahead of Sochi 2014. Following the “fury” of Russian Minister of Sport Viatly Mutko at the “carless” nature of the RBU, Dr. Rodchenkov alleges that Prokhorov offered Starykh the alleged bribe to keep quiet.
Russia’s Ministry of Sport’s internet site reveals that despite the apparent involvement of both Prokhorov and Kravtsov in covering up Russian doping, Kravtsov remains as head of the CSP today. This page of subordinate organisations to the Ministry of Sport lists Kratsov as head of the CSP, and states it was last updated on 3 November this year (English translation on right). As an interesting aside, the Federal Training Centre for Sports Reserve (FCPSR), which oversees the CSP, appears to have removed all news items between 22 April 2014 and 27 June 2016 from its internet site.
In conclusion, a person alleged to be actively involved in covering up the positive tests of Russian athletes was in charge of preparing Russian athletes for PyeongChang 2018. He also took over from the President of a Russian national association accused of offering a bribe to a Russian athlete to keep quiet about State doping. And that person is the former CEO of a Russian industrial conglomerate that is a major supporter of Russian sport, including the ROC.
The alleged involvement of Prokhorov and Kravtsov in the systemic doping that took place in Russia doesn’t prove State involvement, although it could be argued that it comes close. There is also no suggestion that Norilsk Nickel, which was privatised in 1995, was in any way connected to systemic Russian doping. Prokhorov sold his stake in Norilsk Nickel in 2008, when he took over as President of the RBU.
However, it is significant that a wealthy former industrialist was apparently aware of what was going on in Russian sport, and it appears that he was prepared to pay one athlete ‘millions of roubles’ to keep the systemic Russian doping system under wraps. It is also significant that Prokhorov’s 2011 political campaign is alleged to have been overseen by the Kremlin.
Until July this year, one of the major shareholders in Norilsk Nickel was Metalloinvest, which is owned by Alisher Usmanov. As well as being President of the International Fencing Federation (FIE), Usmanov owns 30% of Arsenal football club and is a member of Russia’s Independent Public Anti-Doping Commission (IPADC), which is led by Vitaly Simrnov, Honorary President of the ROC, which is sponsored by Norilsk Nickel. Incidentally, Roman Abramovic, owner of Arsenal’s Premier League rival Chelsea, is a shareholder in Metalloinvest.
This underlines that Russian industrial backing of sport continues today. Many of the ‘oligarchs’ that became billionaires through the privatisation of former State-owned heavy industry are now major investors in sport. It could be argued that they have a debt to pay to the State for their riches. For example, in Prokhorov’s case, it has been alleged that the Kremlin allowed him the opportunity to purchase Norilsk Nikel for a fraction of its market value.
However, Dr. Rodchenkov’s allegations go further than Prokhorov, Norilsk Nickel or heavy industry involvement in Russian sport. They outline just how involved the Ministry of Sport was in managing the State doping system that operated within Russia. The Minister of Sport at the time was Vitaly Mutko, now Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and Chairman of the Local Organising Committee of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. As previously mentioned, Norilsk Nickel is a sponsor of Russia’s national team.
In his affidavit, Dr. Rodchenkov alleges that manipulation of the doping control systems within Russia was ‘orchestrated by then-Minister of Sports Vitaly Mutko and then-Deputy Minister of Sports Yury Nagornykh, financed by the Ministry of Sports, and carried out by dozens of other government and RUSADA officials and employees’. The affidavit also alleges that Dr. Rodchenkov and Mutko discussed the payment of a ‘large bribe’ designed to avoid the detection of its doping system.
Who that bribe was paid to is not revealed. It has previously been alleged that Papa Massata Diack, son of former International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Lamine Diack, brought in VTB Bank as sponsor of the 2013 Moscow World Championships in exchange for turning a blind eye to Russian positive tests.
“We had to report the suspension of Russian athletes suspected of doping after the World Championships in 2013”, the IC said that IAAF President Lamine Diack had told French media, as reported by the Sports Integrity Initiative. “If there were no TV rights, no marketing rights, and if the athletes would have been suspended, it would have been a catastrophe”.
‘An issue had arisen regarding the TV rights to the Championships that had been awarded in 2009 to the IAAF’, reads the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) second Independent Commission (IC) report (PDF below), published on 14 January 2016. ‘The “problem” is described as having a $6 million US price tag […] it is known that at this point PMD [Papa Massata Diack] was able to bring in a sponsorship arrangement with the VTB Bank worth $25 million US.’ A 2015 Marketing Presentation by Papa Diack (pictured, right) suggests that VTB’s involvement could have been worth even more than that.
Such claims have already been partly corroborated in evidence provided to the IAAF Ethics Commission by the former Director of the IAAF’s Anti-Doping Department, Gabriel Dollé. ‘He was told that Lamine Diack, Habib Cissé [IAAF lawyer] and [Valentin] Balakhnichev [Russian Athletics Federation President] had agreed that the handling of the Russian cases including that of Shobukhova should be drawn out in order not to put in jeopardy an important sponsorship deal for the next IAAF World Championships’, read the IAAF Ethics Commission report (PDF below), published on 7 January 2016. ‘Lamine Diack had asked Dollé to find a way to manage the cases discreetly to avoid bad publicity which could risk losing an important sponsor (the Russian bank VTB)’.
VTB initially threatened legal action over allegations that its sponsorship of Moscow 2013 was in any way suspicious. However, the bank renewed its sponsorship of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) in May this year, and there has been no more news regarding any potential lawsuit against WADA.
Dr. Rodchenkov alleges that the Ministry of Sports financed its plan to subvert the doping controls at Sochi 2014 through five “research grants” approved by Nagornykh with authority from Mutko. This included State Contracts 262-265 and State Contract 399; the five contracts totalling 56 million roubles (€810,000).
Dr. Rodchenkov says he reported the ‘Scientific Research Grants’ to WADA during June 2014. In addition, he alleges that part of a 23 December 2010 contract with the local organising committee for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics provided an additional 43 million roubles (€622,000) to fund the programme. This brings the grant total to €1.43 million.
Whether such funding was sufficient for such a sophisticated doping programme is subject to debate. Was money coming in from other sources? WADA also has questions to answer as to whether it monitored how such research grants were spent.
Rodchenkov’s affidavit alleges that the Centre of Sports Preparation for the National Teams of Russia (CSP) was heavily involved in the management of State doping. It names CSP Director Alexander Kravtsov and Deputy Director Irina Rodionova as being actively involved. Dr. Rodchenkov alleges that Alexy Velikodny of the CSP created The Duchess List, which detailed which athletes were to be ‘saved’ from reporting positive tests by the ‘disappearing positive methodology’ outlined by Richard McLaren in his Independent Person (IP) Reports for WADA.
It also outlines the role of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the modern successor of the KGB. The role of Evgeny Blokhin in opening sample bottle caps was highlighted by Richard McLaren in his IP Reports for WADA. However Dr. Rodchenkov underlines the extent of the manipulation by outlining that over 500 athlete samples were stored in freezers at the FSB Command Centre adjacent to the Sochi 2014 Laboratory.
Another often overlooked factor is that Dr. Rodchenkov, head of the Moscow Laboratory, was an FSB agent himself. Dr. Rodchenkov mentions that in January 2015, he was asked to write a memorandum explaining the danger that Hajo Seppelt’s December 2014 could expose the State doping system. This also suggests an element of State control over the Moscow Laboratory.
The overlying theme of Dr. Rodchenkov’s affidavit is just how closely Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko supervised Russian State doping whilst he was Minister of Sport. Dr. Rodchenkov alleges that Mutko & Nagornykh ‘knew about, and asserted control over, the State sponsored system’, which is why they had a criminal investigation against him terminated on 27 June 2012, so that he could continue his work in the Moscow Laboratory.
Dr. Rodchenkov doesn’t hide the fact that he was investigated for 16 months for distribution of banned substances to athletes, but he alleges that this charge was utilised to control him. A criminal case was lodged against Rodchenkov in the Russian courts, case number 44y-0173/2012, relating to a criminal investigation under clause 234 (3) of the Russian Criminal Code, which dealt with supply of banned drugs. However, the case was later dropped.
In the Icarus film, Dr. Rodchenkov tells Bryan Fogel that his release was personally ordered by Russian President, Vladimir Putin, due to an invitation to visit the London 2012 Laboratory, and in return for his running of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic doping programme. Dr. Rodchenkov claims that the invitation to visit the London Laboratory was only applicable to him.
“You can imagine how important this was to Russia”, says Rodchenkov. This resulted in the dropping of criminal charges against him. “It was my redemption”, he says. Rodchenkov points out that his boss was Russia’s former Deputy Minister of Sport, Yury Nagornykh, who reported to Mutko, who reported to Putin.
‘Mutko and Nagomykh knew of this situation with the criminal investigation quite well, as they and other high-level officials in the Kremlin were involved in ending the investigation when the IOC invited me to work within the Ad Hoc Doping Group working in Olympic Laboratory in Harlow during the London Games’, writes Dr. Rodchenkov in his affidavit. ‘Any suggestion that I would have risked operating a doping system without specific commands and approvals is absurd.’
He alleges that Mutko tasked Nagornykh with developing a system to prevent Russian athletes from testing positive at Sochi 2014 back in 2012. He alleges that Mutko approved the Duchess List of athletes that would receive his cocktail of of three steroids – metenolone, oxandrolone and trenbolone – dissolved in alcohol to speed up absorption and shorten the detection period. Dr. Rodchenkov also alleges that Mutko asked him to explore ways in which he could keep the Sochi 2014 Laboratory in operation after the conclusion of the Olympics.
Another startling feature of the affidavit is Mutko’s apparent anger when things began to go wrong. It mentions Mutko’s fury at the positive tests of Starykh and Ioureiva, his anger at Rodchenkov for allowing race walker Elena Lashmanova’s positive sample to be reported in WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS). It mentions his anger at race walking coach Viktor Chegin and RusAF President Balakhnichev for substituting her sample when they didn’t need to. It mentions that Mutko was ‘livid’ that Rodchenkov prepared a briefing for the FSB on Seppelt’s December 2014 documentary without his prior permission.
Incidentally, Dr. Rodchenkov mentions that he was offered a last-minute bribe of €300,000 to ‘save’ Lashmanova by reporting her B sample as clean. He alleges that Alexy Melnikov, Russia’s State Athletics Coach and Alexsei Desinov, a doctor employed by Chegin, offered him the bribe, despite Mutko’s orders that the positive B sample was to be recorded in WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS). Dr. Rodchenkov’s rejection of the bribe does not appear to fit Russia’s profile of him as a ‘lone wolf’ criminal motivated by money.
Sport’s failure to acknowledge that it may have missed the signs that systemic doping was occurring in Russia has been covered by The Sports Integrity Initiative before. Sport’s governing bodies were specifically told about systemic Russian doping in 2010, 2012, and 2013. Sport also continually claims that it ‘discovered’ the problem of systemic Russian doping, when it was the continued persistence of whistleblowers and investigative journalists that brought the problem to light.
In his affidavit, Dr. Rodchenkov provides a number of examples of crucial points where he feared that the State doping system would be detected, but sport appeared to look the other way. Dr. Rodchenkov points out that concerns about State doping in Russia were first raised in July 2008, when seven track and field athletes were suspended ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympics. ‘The number of suspensions, and the varied events involved, raised troubling questions about possible ineptitude or corruption in Russian drug-testing procedures and also prompted concerns about whether a deliberate, systematic attempt was made by coaches or officials to undermine drug-testing protocols’, wrote the New York Times.
The seven were accused of tampering with their samples after DNA did not appear to match earlier samples. “This does seem to be an example of systematic planned doping”, the Chair of the IOC Medical Commission and WADA Vice President at the time, Arne Ljungqvist, told the Daily Mail.
On 6 July 2013, Dr. Rodchenkov believed Russia’s ‘day of reckoning’ had come when the Mail on Sunday ran its exposé of the Russian State doping system. As previously reported by The Sports Integrity Initiative, the Mail on Sunday sent its evidence to the IAAF, IOC and WADA, yet it appears that nobody did anything.
“The information the Mail on Sunday sent to us was in the public domain at the time and WADA was made aware of the information and even commented in a Mail on Sunday story in July 2013”, said an IOC spokesperson. “WADA was the correct body to be investigating such claims. They have taken certain steps at the time. However, with this systemic manipulation not just the athletes were cheated but also WADA was cheated, the IOC, the IOC experts who were present in Sochi as well as the independent observer group of WADA. This is reflected in the Schmid Report and the severity of the IOC EB decisions.”
Dr. Rodchenkov outlines that WADA inspected the Moscow Laboratory in 2012 and 2013, which led to a Disciplinary Hearing held on 13 November 2013. The Moscow Laboratory was suspended for six months, but was allowed to resume operations for Sochi 2014. WADA also inspected the Sochi Laboratory on 6 February 2014, but did not find the ‘mouse hole’ to room 124, through which Russian samples were passed to be exchanged for the clean urine held in the adjacent FSB Command Centre.
Perhaps the biggest giveaway was Russia’s success at the Sochi Games. As Dr. Rodchenkov points out, Russia took 33 medals at the Games, but did not report a single adverse analytical finding (AAF). This should have rung alarm bells. It didn’t. ‘We published a report of our findings on 13 October 2014, which showed 38 adverse analytical findings, which led to 8 anti-doping rule violations’, he writes. ‘No one seemed to notice that we caught other cheaters, but not a single Russian athlete’.
There were also operational failures on sport’s part. A 9 December 2014 letter from WADA Scientific Director Olivier Rabin informed Dr. Rodchenkov that a ‘surprise’ inspection would be taking place two weeks later. This allowed Dr. Rodchenkov the time needed to destroy 8,000 samples held at the Moscow Laboratory that if discovered, would have given away the State operated doping system.
The WADA Independent Observers present at Sochi 2014 failed to spot that athletes were taking photographs of their Doping Control Forms at the Doping Control Station to send to Rodionova, which allowed their sample to be identified for swapping. This is a breach of Rule 4.9 in the Appendix of the Sochi 2014 Anti-Doping Rules (PDF below). As previously reported by The Sports Integrity Initiative, they did discover that an Russian Ministry of Sport official was present in the Laboratory, but this discovery did not result in any action by WADA.
Despite the detail in Dr. Rodchenkov’s affidavit, facilitated by his extensive diaries, a number of loose ends remain. The first involves a system was set up by Nagornykh and the FSB to intercept samples sent abroad at the Russian border, which Dr. Rodchenkov clarifies that he was not involved in. It mentions that a similar system was used prior to the Beijing 2008 Olympics to intercept urine samples taken from four race walkers, including Olga Kaniskina and Valery Borchin, who went on to win gold medals in Beijing.
The extent of this interception system has not been fully examined by sport’s investigations into Russian doping. For example, the international swimming federation (FINA) decided to move all sample analysis outside of Russia during 2015, except during the 2015 Kazan World Championships. As The Sports Integrity Initiative reported at the time, there appeared to be an issue with sending blood samples across the border, which was why all samples had to be analysed in Moscow.
FINA never did explain why it was necessary to send all samples from Kazan 2015 via Moscow. Its list of sanctioned athletes doesn’t mention any anti-doping rule violations in connection with Kazan 2015 at all – let alone any Russian violations. As late as June 2016, all Russian samples going outside of the country had to be re-routed via Moscow.
As his Russian Wikipedia page reveals, Dr. Rodchenkov studied Chemical Kinetics and Catalysis at Moscow State University before graduating in 1982, after which it is understood that he spent time studying with Don Catlin, who founded the UCLA Laboratory in the US – also in 1982. It is understood that Dr. Rodchenkov started work at the Moscow Laboratory until 1985, receiving a Doctorate of Philosophy in Analytical Chemistry from the Moscow Institute of Food Industry in 1990.
In 1994, he left the Laboratory to work for Interlab before joining the Anti-Doping Centre in Calgary for the 1998 Winter Olympics. After that, he returned to Russia and took a number of roles before returning to work for the Moscow Laboratory in 2005, becoming Director a year later.
There is no reason why Dr. Rodchenkov should mention his time in the US, as his affidavit concerns allegations of Russian State doping, but it is curious that it is left out. This is likely to fuel Russian speculation that the affidavit was written with US cooperation.
The third loose end is more speculative. Dr. Rodchenkov regularly hints at the difficulties operating such a complex system involved. His affidavit regularly mentions 5am finishes during the Sochi 2014 Olympics.
Meticulous attention to which samples were to be swapped was required, requiring athletes to take photographs of numbers on doping control forms (DCFs) which had to be matched to samples, with zero room for human error. Following the successful swapping of samples, entries into the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) had to be correctly entered and not attract scrutiny. Put simply, there was a great deal that could go wrong.
Closed cities provide an interesting insight into the Russian psyche. In essence, a closed city allows Russia to hide what it doesn’t want the world to see. Citizens require a special permit to visit such cities, which may contain military establishments or research institutions.
Closed cities have certain parallels with the Russian doping system. Norilsk is a closed city because Russia doesn’t want the world to see how a huge polluting conglomerate, built by gulag prisoners, is serviced by citizens who have to endure extremely harsh conditions. As outlined above, Russia attempted to hide its State doping system from the world’s eyes. In both situations, it is the work of investigative journalists that have revealed their secrets to the world.
The anti-doping world first became aware of closed cities when it was found that many Russian athletes were listing them on their whereabouts filings for WADA’s ADAMS, which requires athletes to list where they will be available for testing for one hour each day. In June 2016, a report (PDF below) from UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) for WADA found that Doping Control Officers (DCOs) could not gain access to such cities to test athletes.
As previously mentioned, there is no suggestion that Norilsk or anyone involved with Norilsk Nickel is connected with Russian State doping. However, it is significant that the former CEO of the company, who is now a US sports team franchise owner, was apparently aware of the State doping system and was prepared to pay a bribe to cover it up.
Until now, it has been assumed that Russian State doping was operating in a closed system. This has parallels with investigations into FIFA. For years Andrew Jennings was writing about corrupt payments in connection to the awarding of TV rights to the FIFA World Cup that were so large that they needed a separate company, International Sport and Leisure (ISL), to administer them.
FIFA turned the other cheek, in much the same way that sport has turned a blind eye to what has been going on in Russia for a number of years. It was only when US investigators were able to prove that such corrupt payments had touched US shores that the spectacular arrests of FIFA officials took place ahead of the 2015 FIFA Congress.
Prokhorov became owner of the Brooklyn Nets in 2010, whilst he was still President of the Russian Biathlon Union, and four years before he allegedly bribed Starykh. The Energy and Commerce Committee of the US House of Representatives has been attempting to gather evidence that anchors payments relating to Russian doping to US shores for the past two years. It held its first hearing in March this year. Could Prokhorov’s bribe provide the evidence it needs to launch similar arrests?
• The Sports Integrity Initiative analysed Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov’s Affidavit in detail on Twitter. To view the analysis, click here.