24 February 2021

Bulgarian swimmers claim they were given pills by national federation*

Three young members of the Bulgarian swimming team who reported adverse analytical findings (AAFs) for stanozolol, have claimed that they were given pills by the national swimming federation. Zdravko Bablakov (Здравко Баблаков), Svetlozar Nikolov (Светлозар Николов), and Blagoy Panayotov (Благой Панайотов) were provisionally suspended yesterday, the country’s anti-doping agency (SAA) announced. All three reported an AAF for stanozolol as a result of an out of competition (OOC) test conducted on 4 February.

“The pills are given to those of us in the national team by Dr. Lyubomir Petrov”, Panayotov told bTV. “They give them to us twice a day. In the morning, after the first training session and in the evening, after the second session.” All three swimmers told the private broadcaster that they were informed about their AAF by Dr. Petrov, who told them to refer any media questions to the national swimming federation (BFPS).

“All athletes know what medications they are taking”, Georgi Avramchev (Георги Аврамчев), Chairman of the BFPS told Hello Bulgaria. “They are prepared by a doctor. We have been working with the specific doctor for three years and I trust him. When samples are taken, a report is produced where each athlete describes what they are taking. Some took 36 pills, but not of different types. It is just that if you have to take 8mg and one pill is 1mg, then you take eight.”

36 pills a day

The ’36 pills’ is a reference to an interview given by Nikolov. “For two years we’ve had a doctor who deals with our recovery [Petrov] and at the Belmeken camp, we received 36 pills a day in a plastic cup”, he told Sportal.bg. “Before that we were shown the boxes, but they decided to give them to us in a cup because it was easier for them. We trusted them, which was a big mistake. We had separate threats about not receiving salaries or expulsion from the camp. If we refused to go to the camp, we were sanctioned.”

Bablakov and Panayotov both 18, and Nikolov 20, were hoping to be able to compete at the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics. A petition has been launched by Nina Rangelova (Нина Рангелова), who holds 13 national records in swimming, in support of the trio. ‘We want to show support for Svetlozar Nikolov, Blagoy Panayotov, and Zdravko Bablakov in their fight against the BFPS (Bulgarian Swimming Federation), which selflessly tries to wash its hand of them to get out of the situation with impunity’, it reads.

Diana Petkova (Диана Петкова), the Bulgarian 50m record holder who is studying in the US, has also alleged that she underwent similar experiences. ‘I accept of of this as if it were happening to me’, she wrote on Facebook (see right). ‘You have no other choice and you trust – you trust your health, your future and every dream! […] Trust me, they have no choice but to be at camp for months taking supplements […] Don’t forget, these are our boys! Now is the moment when we show that we really are a team! Heads up – we are with you and will fight, even if it costs us everything!’

Ministry of Sport – Swimming Federation must investigate

Bulgaria’s Ministry of Sport (MPES) has asked the national swimming federation to conduct an investigation, despite swimmers alleging that it is systematically doping its own athletes. It also suggested that a lack of AAFs reported in swimming meant that no systematic doping was taking place.

‘From 2018 until now, the percentage of positive samples involving national swimmers is extremely small’, read a statement. ‘For this period, the Anti-Doping Centre has conducted 136 tests, of which the total number of positive samples is five, and three are swimmers from our national teams. This shows that there are no systematic anti-doping rule violations and no practice has been established for the use of banned substances in the national swimming team’.

Systemic, Systematic, or something else?

Russia didn’t report a single AAF at Sochi 2014…

The whole purpose of systematic doping is to allow athletes to use prohibited substances without reporting an AAF. Russia didn’t report a single AAF at the Sochi 2014 Olympics. However, by December 2017, 46 Russians had been disqualified from the Games. Coordination between the State and sporting authorities ensured that any AAFs reported by Russia’s athletes simply disappeared. By the time that Sochi 2014 came around, this had developed into a complex urine substitution system.

While there is no suggestion that Bulgaria’s Ministry of Sport is involved in anything like this, its statement does appear naive. What would be the point in the national swimming federation doping national team athletes if they reported an AAF and were banned from competing? No AAFs doesn’t automatically mean no doping. Yet Bulgaria’s Ministry of Sport has asked the very national federation that athletes accuse of corruption to investigate their situation.

Dr. Lubomir Petrov (Любомир Петров), the doctor alleged to have given pills to the trio at the Belmeken training camp in the Rila Mountains, is a Professor at Bulgaria’s national sports academy (NSA). He is a member of the Department of Physiology & Biochemistry, and the Faculty of Sports, which deals with young athletes competing in wrestling, judo, ice sports, football, tennis, weightlifting, boxing, and fencing. This casts the Ministry of Sport’s denials of impropriety in a different light, and perhaps should arouse the suspicion of investigating authorities. 

* More details about this story emerged on 3 March. A statement was published by the BFPS on 8 March. Further details emerged on 9 March and on 17 March.

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