23 March 2016

Analysis: FINA to investigate Russian doping allegations

The Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) has pledged to investigate allegations of systemic doping in Russian swimming, however stated that it is ‘not aware of any concrete evidence of systemic doping in Russian swimming’. FINA said that the allegations would be investigated ‘as a matter utmost urgency’, however analysis by the Sports Integrity Initiative has found that it moved the majority of sample analysis outside of Russia during 2015, apart from during the Kazan 2015 World Championships.

The Times allegations

The Times newspaper alleged that:

• two swimmers tested positive for erythropoietin (EPO) but were never punished;
• coaches were offered huge wages to work at Russian swimming centres that included ‘pharmacological laboratories’;
• Dr. Sergei Portugalov has worked with the Russian swimming federation since 2009, leading to 23 swimmers being sanctioned for use of performance enhancing drugs;
• Russia has the worst record for doping sanctions in aquatic sports, with over 40 sanctions reported in the past decade.


Dr. Portugalov

One of the reinstatement conditions that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) imposed on the Russian athletics federation (RusAF) was that it should sever all ties with Dr. Portugalov. On 11 March, it reported that RusAF was ‘taking measures’ to exclude Dr. Portugalov, who is listed on the RusAF internet site as a ‘specialist in anti-doping’, who ‘advises leading Russian athletes on preparations for the major international competitions’.

Dr. Portugalov also supervised a special unit set up by RusAF to ‘solve the scientific and practical issues of preparation of the national athletics team’ for the London 2012 Olympic Games. The RusAF internet site lists the function of the unit as ‘the scientific and methodological support of athletes, including recovery after exercise as well as the efficient use of authorised medicines’.

A search of the RusAF internet site doesn’t reveal any ban imposed on Dr. Portugalov – something RusAF might be keen to trumpet in order to prove it had changed its practices. The first World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Independent Commission report found that Dr. Portugalov had ‘a complete disregard for the health and well-being of the athletes’, and that athletes had paid him to cover up positive doping tests. ‘The IC finds that not only did Dr. Portugalov supply PEDs to athletes and coaches, but also administered the doping programs and even injected athletes himself’, it read.

Kazan 2015

Following allegations of systemic doping in Russian athletics, FINA faced a particular issue – its 2015 World Championships took place in Kazan, Russia from 24 July to 9 August. This was during the WADA Independent Commission’s first investigation into allegations of systemic Russian doping, but before its first report was released in November.

In today’s statement, FINA defended the Kazan 2015 testing programme, which was carried out under the supervision of independent observers from WADA-accredited laboratories in Barcelona and London. However, as reported by the Sports Integrity Initiative at the time, the testing programme was supervised by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) and was conducted at the Moscow laboratory, both of which have been suspended.

A FINA press release confirms this. After the WADA Independent Commission’s first report was released in November, FINA issued a release which omitted to mention that RUSADA had led the testing programme. FINA’s release today is almost a carbon copy of that release. It does admit that the Kazan tests were analysed by the Moscow laboratory, but states that in 2015, the ‘great majority of the samples collected in Russia were analysed in the WADA-accredited laboratories in Barcelona and Köln’.

This statement is curious. As also reported by the Sports Integrity Initiative at the time, there appeared to be an issue with sending blood samples across the Russian border. FINA normally uses Swedish company IDTM to analyse samples, however it was purported at the time that local legislation prevented blood samples from being sent overseas, which was argued as the reason why samples from all athletes competing at Kazan 2015 had to be analysed in Russia.

However, following the WADA Independent Commission report, FINA was keen to point out that samples taken from Russian swimmers were not analysed in Russia. ‘Following the announcement of the official investigation, FINA made the decision to move the overwhelming majority of the analysis of Russian athletes’ samples out of Russia’, read  FINA’s November 2015 release. ‘In 2015, over 80% of the samples collected in Russia were analysed in the WADA-accredited laboratories in Barcelona (ESP) and Köln (GER)’. Presumably, the 20% included those taken from Russian athletes at Kazan 2015.


As WADA announced its official investigation into Russia in December 2014, it appears that FINA had no issue with sending samples overseas from Russia during 2015, if its release is to be believed. Why then, was there an issue with the Kazan samples and why were they required to be analysed by RUSADA in the Moscow laboratory? The Sports Integrity Initiative has asked FINA why it was essential that sample analysis was carried out by RUSADA in the Moscow laboratory. It must clarify this, otherwise it could face similar allegations of collusion that have plagued the IAAF.

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