News 20th February 2017

Vitaly Mutko alleged to have silenced Russian doping whistleblower

Russian Deputy Prime Minister and head of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, Vitaly Mutko, allegedly ordered Russian discus thrower Darya Pishchalnikova to retract evidence of systemic Russian doping in return for a reduced ban, reports the Mail On Sunday. Pishchalnikova’s evidence (PDF below), submitted to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and others in December 2012, outlines how Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) and laboratory officials colluded to swap the samples of Russian athletes in return for money. It alleges that members of the Russian Olympic team were doped and had their samples substituted in exchange for cash, and that positive tests occurred when team members didn’t pay.

Mutko served as Russia’s Minister for Sport from 2008 until 2016, whilst systemic, state-sponsored doping in Russia is alleged to have occurred. He is also President of the Russian Football Union and Chairman of the Local Organising Committee for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, as well as being a FIFA Council member. He has also been appointed to Chair the organising committee for MINEPS VI, a UNESCO-sanctioned conference discussing the integrity of sport.

The newspaper alleges that after receiving her allegations, WADA sent them to RusAF for it to deal with. This claim is disputed by WADA, which says that the IAAF took the decision to send the allegations back to RusAF for it to deal with. ‘As we have previously stated, and for the record, Ms. Pishchalnikova communicated her concerns to WADA; and, as was proper protocol, these were forwarded on to the IAAF’, wrote a WADA spokesperson via email. ‘It was the IAAF (and not WADA) that then referred Ms. Pishchalnikova’s information on to Russian Athletics (RusAF)’.

The newspaper alleges that Mutko persuaded Pishchalnikova to withdraw her allegations by threatening her with a life ban unless she cooperated. Pishchalnikova was issued with a ten-year ban by RusAF, which is scheduled to expire on 1 November 2022.

Pischalnikova’s evidence was part of of an evidential cache of ‘non-confidential’ information, containing 1,166 documents including photos, forensic reports, testing analysis, schedules, emails and working documents underpinning the two WADA Independent Person (IP) Reports produced by Richard McLaren. It was submitted to WADA’s President at the time, John Fahey, in December 2012 when current WADA President Craig Reedie was a member of the WADA Executive Committee. Reedie initially told the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee of the UK Parliament that he first became aware of corrupt payments in connection to doping in Russia in December 2014.

WADA said that following the hearing, Reedie had clarified that he first became aware of the corruption issues concerning the IAAF and RusAF on 19 September 2014, during a meeting that he and Olivier Niggli (then WADA’s COO and General Counsel) held with the Russian Ministry of Sport. That is still almost two years after Pishchalnikova sent her letter to WADA and the IAAF.

‘These matters pertained to corruption, and as such it was only appropriate that the information was sent on to the IAAF Ethics Commission, the appropriate body to investigate corruption matters in athletics’, read the email from WADA’s spokesperson. ‘The information he learnt [regarding the issues between the IAAF and Russian Athletics Federation] was sent to the IAAF Ethics Commission on 7 November 2014. During the period of time between when he first learnt of the issue [19 September 2014] and when the ARD Documentary aired [3 December 2014], WADA was conducting work on the ‘substantial assistance’ case for the athlete concerned and shared the information with the IAAF Ethics Commission, the appropriate body to investigate the matter further’.

Analysis

WADA, the Russian Ministry of Sport and the Kremlin have yet to issue statements in response to the Mail on Sunday’s allegations. It appears odd that Pischalnikova would agree to retract evidence to WADA in exchange for a ten-year ban – unless she was under the impression she would be receiving a shorter ban that would allow her to return to competition. It also appears odd that the IAAF would forward allegations that directly implicated RusAF officials back to RusAF for it to deal with. If that turns out to be accurate, then questions need to be asked as to who ordered this approach and why.

As Pischalnikova’s evidence dates from 2012, it also raises questions as to when WADA became aware of allegations that Russian athletics officials were extorting money from athletes in exchange for covering up positive doping tests. The meeting between Reedie, Niggli and the Russian Ministry of Sport also appears to provide concrete evidence that the Russian Ministry of Sport was aware of corruption allegations within RusAF on 19 September 2014. At that point, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko was Russia’s Minister of Sport.

The allegations are also likely to be considered as part of an integrity test that Mutko is undergoing in order to be re-elected as a FIFA Council member in April. If the allegations are accurate, they also raise questions as to Mutko’s suitability as Chair of the the organising committee for MINEPS VI.

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