5 August 2015

IAAF & Coe argue with experts over analysis of blood data

Sebastian Coe has supported the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) rebuttal of allegations made by ARD and the Sunday Times that it failed to adequately follow up ‘suspicious’ blood values in a database obtained by German journalist, Hajo Seppelt. “It is a declaration of war on my sport”, IAAF Presidential candidate Coe told the Associated Press.

Following the IAAF’s lead, Coe also attacked the experts used by ARD and the Sunday Times to analyse the blood data, which prompted a detailed response from Michael Ashenden and Robin Parisotto “These so-called experts – give me a break”, he told the AP, pointing out that that the IAAF has a commission of three independent experts who checked blood samples. “I know who I would believe”. In response, Ashenden and Parisotto released a statement ‘rebutting each and every one’ of the concerns about their analysis raised by the IAAF in its detailed response to ARD and the Sunday Times. ‘We stand by the evaluations we submitted to Sunday Times and ARD/WDR’, read the statement.

“There is nothing in our history of competence and integrity in drug-testing that warrants this kind of attack”, Coe (pictured) told the AP. “Nobody should underestimate the anger at the way our sport has been portrayed. The fightback has to start here. We cannot be portrayed as a sport that is in any way dragging our heels. The use of that database, however it got into their possession, displayed either breathtaking ignorance or a level of malevolence around a set of readings you can simply cannot extrapolate beyond. The idea that my sport sat there either covering up wrongdoing or just being incompetent could not be wider of the mark.”

‘The pre-2009 data is reliable, in fact by their own admission the IAAF has relied on those data to extend sanctions against athletes’, read Ashenden and Parisotto’s statement. ‘We followed the same procedure as IAAF expert panelists when reviewing ABP profiles, classifying results as “likely doping” when we were able to confidently exclude all other potential causes or instead “suspicious” when there was genuine evidence of blood manipulation however further investigation such as target testing would have been required. And for the avoidance of doubt, we based our judgments on the entire blood test profile for the athlete not just on individual scores.’

As pointed out by the Sports Integrity Initiative in its initial analysis of the ARD documentary ‘Geheimsache Doping – Im Schattenreich der Leichtathletik’, Ashenden was the driving force behind the development of the athlete biological passport (ABP) for the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and was a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Passport Committee that devised targeting strategies for international federations such as the IAAF to adopt. He quit the UCI in 2012, after WADA recommended that anti-doping organisations such as the IAAF run their ABP through new Athlete Passport Management Units. It is understood that Ashenden was concerned that confidentiality clauses within the agreements prevented any criticism of the system.

The other expert was Robin Parisotto, a former scientist with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). He was the principal researcher in the EPO 2000 Project, which helped develop the first blood tests to detect erythropoietin (EPO) to be used at the Olympic Games. He is a stem cell scientist at the Canberra Hospital, member of the UCI ABP Panel and a consultant to the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA). His profile on the Play The Game internet site states that he left the AIS after a ‘government ban on his research activities’, however no further information on any such ban could be found.

As reported by the Sports Integrity Initiative yesterday, the IAAF notified police after intelligence it received indicated that the data had been obtained illegally by ARD and the Sunday Times and had not been leaked, as claimed. In December 2014, the Daily Telegraph used what appears to be the same data to come to conclusions about an alleged cover-up. A warning letter send by the IAAF to Seppelt in March this year revealed that it had warned Seppelt over using the data in December 2014.

‘We would refer you to the correspondence you received from our Hamburg office in December 2014’, read the letter. ‘In that correspondence, we set out our client’s concerns about your retention and dissemination of highly confidential and private information consisting of the results of athlete blood tests…’ In the ARD documentary, Seppelt claims that he was sent the IAAF blood data on a memory stick, in an envelope with no return address.

How to tackle the issue is likely to form one of the battlegrounds during the election of a new IAAF President to replace Lamine Diack, who dismissed the claims as a “joke” at a media conference in Malaysia. When launching his manifesto for election as IAAF President in June, Coe called for the establishment of an ‘external, fully Independent Anti-doping Agency to deal with doping violations in international level Athletics’.

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