10 June 2019

Athletes express frustration after IAAF upholds RusAF’s suspension

Elite Russian athletes expressed their frustration after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) upheld the suspension of the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) yesterday. ‘Welcome to the Titanic’, wrote Russian long jumper Aleksandr Menkov on Instagram (see below). ‘How long can this situation last? I am an athlete, I cannot compete in international competitions, why should I be constantly in limbo? Why are we subjected to this endless humiliation? Why is everyone silent? Why doesn’t anybody fight it?’

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Добро пожаловать на Титаник . Сколько времени может уже продолжаться данная ситуация !!!Почему , я спортсмен , не могу выступать на международных стартах , почему я должен быть постоянно в подвешенном состоянии ? Мы положили на это , всю свою Жизнь !!! Почему нас всех подвергают этому бесконечному унижению . Почему все молчат ? Почему никто это не освещает ? И чью Честь мы в итоге Защищаем !!!! С чьим флагом мы выходим? Неужели мы нужны только тогда , когда удобно !!!! #iaaf #wada #rusada

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High jumper Maria Lasitskene called for the resignation of those involved in Russian athletics during State manipulation of the doping control process. ‘Over the past three and a half years, I have heard two hundred times that everything has been done and we are about to be restored’, she wrote on Instagram (see below). ‘But this is only a beautiful wrapper, which we are trying to use. It seems to all of these people that athletes see nothing, do not understand, and in general their business is to jump and be silent. They forget that without athletes, the existence of any sports organisation or federation doesn’t make sense.

‘They just shrug us off, covering each other. We can engage in self-deception as much as we like, talking about how the West is afraid of our athletes, about the millions of points on the roadmap that were made on paper. But what we have done with our own hands in athletics in these last few years, not a single paper would tolerate.

‘I hope that the people involved in this endless shame still have the courage to leave. And do not think I am talking only about the leadership, but also the current coaches who are still confident that it is impossible to win without doping. It is time for them to resign. A new generation of athletes should grow up with a different philosophy.’

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За последние три с половиной года я раз двести слышала, что всё сделано и нас вот-вот восстановят. Но это лишь красивая обертка, которую нам пытаются навязать. Всем этим людям кажется, что спортсмены ничего не видят, не понимают и вообще их дело прыгать и молчать. Они забыли, что без атлетов, существование любой спортивной организации или федерации, не имеет смысла. Они просто отмахиваются от нас, прикрывая друг друга. Мы можем сколько угодно заниматься самообманом, рассказывая о том, как наших легкоатлетов боится Запад, о миллионах пунктах «дорожной карты», которые были выполнены на бумаге. Но то, что мы сделали собственными руками с нашей легкой атлетикой за эти несколько лет, ни одна бумага не вытерпит. Надеюсь, у людей, причастных к этому нескончаемому позору, все-таки хватит мужества уйти. Самим. И не думайте, что я говорю только о руководстве, речь и о действующих тренерах, которые все еще уверены, что без допинга невозможно побеждать. Им давно пора на покой. Новое поколение наших легкоатлетов должно вырасти с иной философией, а её любому спортсмену закладывает именно тренер. Разговоры о том, что на допинге сидит весь мир, неуместны. Не надо спасать весь мир, необходимо спасти то, что осталось от российской легкой атлетики. @minsport_rf @rusaf_official @rusada_russia

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The frustration of Menkov and Lasitskene mirrors that expressed in an Open Letter from Yuriy Ganus, Director of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), calling for the replacement of RusAF management. It may have been prompted by recent allegations that banned coaches and doctors are still working with athletes. A Reuters reporter witnessed Vladimir Mokhnev, who was sanctioned with a ten year ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in 2016, giving instructions to seven athletes and recording their times. 

An investigation by the news agency also found that Valery Volkov, sanctioned with a four year ban in August 2017, is also working with athletes. Reuters also found that Dr. Sergei Portugalov, sanctioned with a lifetime ban in March 2017, has given advice on nutrition and training at a Moscow gym. In June 2018, RusAF issued a reminder instructing athletes not to work with a number of banned coaches and athlete support personnel, including the three mentioned by Reuters.

Earlier this month, it emerged that the investigatory arm of the IAAF, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), is investigating allegations that RusAF officials were complicit in forging documentation to help high jumper Danil Lysenko explain a whereabouts violation. The IAAF Taskforce Report (PDF below) on RusAF’s reinstatement reveals that Dmitry Shlyakhtin, RusAF’s President, brought this matter to the IAAF’s attention.

‘This problem has arisen before, and when the Taskforce previously raised it with RusAF, Mr Shlyakhtin agreed to take various steps to prevent repetition, including asking the regional authorities to help enforce the bans, and getting all national team athletes to acknowledge in writing that they were not permitted to associate with the banned individuals’, reads the Taskforce’s Report. ‘We raised the issue with Mr Shlyakhtin again yesterday, and he expressed great frustration that the same allegations were being made again, and said he had written immediately to RUSADA, asking that it investigate the matter urgently. 

‘The Taskforce acknowledges that RusAF President Dmitry Shlyakhtin has been very upfront about these recent problems, and has assured the Taskforce that he is doing everything in his power to get them investigated and resolved as soon as possible. Mr Shlyakhtin has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to the new culture of zero tolerance for doping in Russian athletics. However, the question is whether all Russian officials and athletes share that commitment, particularly in the regions. Perhaps it will require an intervention from President Putin himself to help them get the message that things must change.’

RusAF remains suspended

As predicted, on Sunday, the IAAF Council upheld RusAF’s suspension, meaning that Russian athletes that fall under its jurisdiction can only compete internationally if they obtain Authorised Neutral Athlete (ANA) status. In its Report, the IAAF Taskforce said that although RusAF had met the criteria requiring it to reimburse the IAAF for the costs of its suspension, the AIU had yet to receive the analytical data and samples from the Moscow Laboratory in order to ascertain which athletes may have a doping case to answer.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) retrieved the analytical data from the Moscow Laboratory on 6 March. The Taskforce Report (PDF below) clarifies that this data revealed that 1,800 samples were collected from athletes that fall under RusAF’s jurisdiction from 2012 to August 2015. This data came from the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) that WADA provided to the AIU in November 2017 (this is the LIMS given to WADA by Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, former Director of the Moscow Laboratory, which the Russian State claims is unreliable). On 30 April, WADA retrieved 2,262 samples from the Laboratory, including 493 samples requested by the AIU.

‘WADA has advised the AIU that it will pass most of the data that relate to RusAF athletes to the AIU on 18 June 2019, amounting to 110,000 files (several hundred gigabytes of data)’, reads the Taskforce Report. ‘WADA has also explained that it is still in the process of reviewing the remaining data (relating to the samples collected in 2015), and so will only provide that at a later date. WADA also agreed to hold the samples collected from RusAF athletes to the AIU’s order, and will transfer them to a WADA-accredited laboratory for re-analysis upon request by the AIU. The AIU will start analysing the data immediately upon receipt from WADA, (a) to determine whether the data provided meets its requirements; (b) to decide which of the samples that WADA has obtained need to be re-analysed, and ultimately (c) to decide which of the athletes in question have a case to answer for breach of the anti-doping rules.’

The next IAAF Council meeting is on 23 September 2019, the opening day of the Doha 2019 IAAF World Championships. However, the Taskforce writes that it may reconvene ‘before that if appropriate (i.e., if there is material movement on the outstanding conditions before that, the Taskforce may put a recommendation to Council for consideration before the September meeting)’.

Race against time

WADA has confirmed that it will pass some of the Moscow Laboratory data (110,000 files) to the IAAF by 18 June, but the IAAF will not get the rest of the data until ‘a later date’. After the IAAF receives the data from WADA, it must analyse whether it meets its requirements and decide which of the samples held by WADA require reanalysis, and decide which – if any – Russian athletes have a case to answer.

There are a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ involved. What if the data doesn’t meet the IAAF’s requirements? What if the data or samples have been tampered with? The Doha 2019 IAAF World Championships start on 23 September 2019 and it is understood that all cases against Russian athletes from this reanalysis process would need to be brought forward by then, if Russia is to compete as a nation.

‘Transfer of the Moscow Laboratory samples to WADA occurred during this period, as did the transfer of the LIMS database itself and the samples, which were studied by WADA experts’, read a statement from Shlyakhtin. ‘This issue is not within the competence of RusAF, but it is key. Previously, it was assumed that the IAAF would not link the outcome of rechecking samples to RusAF’s reinstatement. Now the situation has changed.’

Shlyakhtin’s statement isn’t accurate as the situation hasn’t changed. At the March IAAF Council meeting, the IAAF Taskforce outlined that all cases against Russian athletes based on analysis of WADA’s data must be brought forward before RusAF’s reinstatement could be considered. Yesterday’s Task Force report clarifies that even when this is completed, ‘it will recommend reinstatement of RusAF’s membership benefits, most likely in phases’.

The frustration of Menkov, Lasitskene is due to being shut out of international competition due to officials refusing to change their actions. Such frustration isn’t hard to understand. An athlete who came into top form in November 2015, when RusAF was suspended, might never know whether they could have beaten the world’s best. Younger athletes are denied international competition despite it being unlikely that they were ever involved in the State manipulation of the doping control process that occurred in Russia.

RusAF can argue that it has done everything in its power to stop banned coaches and doctors from working with athletes. Yet if the allegations concerning Lysenko are proven to be accurate, it would appear that such manipulation is still occurring. Statements such as the one above, from Shlyakhtin, don’t help that perception.

It is important to stress that Lysenko may not be involved. If this is the case, then he would have a legitimate claim against his own federation for jeopardising his chances of competing not only in Doha 2019, but also in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Clean Russian athletes may already be able to hold RusAF accountable for lengthening their exclusion from international competition.

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