Demonising Justin Gatlin
13th September 2015
An investigation by La Republica has alleged that an adverse analytical finding (AAF) reported by Italian race walker Alex Schwazer was the result of sabotage by International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) officials designed to take him out of contention for the Rio 2016 Olympics. Schwazer was provisionally suspended by the Italian athletics federation (FIDAL) in June, shortly after returning from a four-year ban (three months suspended).
His appeal against the provisional suspension was rejected on 19 July, however the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) suggested an ‘expedited arbitration procedure’ to resolve the case before the start of the track and field events at the Rio 2016 Olympics on Friday. Today, FIDAL confirmed that CAS plans to take a decision on Friday, which would allow Schwazer – who is in Rio – to compete in the 20km race walk. The documentary alleges that the CAS, suspicious of the IAAF’s activity around Schwazer’s case, asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to intervene on 17 July.
The investigation, which can be viewed with English subtitles below, alleges that Schwazer was set up to report an AAF, and the sample’s chain of custody was interfered with in order to identify it as his sample. It alleges that race walking officials at the IAAF did this in order to remove Schwazer from contention, and as revenge for his (and his coach’s) role in exposing systemic doping. Schwazer’s coach, Sandro Donati, helped uncover state sponsored doping in Italy in the 1980s.
It features a 6 May recorded conversation where international race walking judge Nicola Maggio asks Donati to let other athletes win. A separate conversation on 23 May features Maggio telling Donati “don’t go looking for trouble with the Chinese”, which Donati alleges was an instruction for Schwazer not to compete with two Chinese race walkers trained by Sandro Damilano at the XXX Gran Premio Cantones de la Coruña on 28 May. Sandro Damilano is the brother of Maurizio Damilano, the Chairman of the IAAF Race Walking Committee. Schwazer eventually finished a close second to Zhen Wang, who is coached by Sandro Damilano.
In the documentary, it is explained that Schwazer was tested on 1 January 2016 at his home in South Tyrol by two anti-doping officials from the IAAF. The documentary alleges that an anti-doping laboratory in Germany reported the test as negative, yet 90 days later, reanalysis occurred and testosterone traces were found.
This is not necessarily unusual – for example, secondary analysis is required to establish a steroidal profile for the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP). The steroidal module of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) is a relatively new development, approved for use by sport by WADA in September 2014. It is different from the haematological module of the ABP, which monitors the athlete’s blood over time to check for variables. The steroidal module monitors an athlete’s urine samples over a period of time to form a ‘steroid profile’ that can be used to check for variables that might indicate steroid use. ‘A single test may be sufficient either for targeting purposes or to prompt IRMS confirmation, although generally two or three urine tests are necessary for a longitudinal analysis’, reads WADA guidance on the steroidal module.
The Cologne laboratory where Schwazer’s sample is understood to have been initially shipped, is specifically accredited as an Athlete Passport Management Unit (APMU) accredited to manage the steroidal module. Last month, Gazetta dello Sport reported that the results of Schwazer’s sample were sent to Canada, where audits of those included in the ABP are carried out.
According to the newspaper, this analysis determined that a new check on the sample was needed in order to determine whether the levels measured in Schwazer’s sample were naturally produced (endogenous) or unnatural (exogenous). This apparently involved carrying out an Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) test on the sample, which had not been done in January as such tests are not routine due to their expense. This analysis apparently revealed the presence of synthetic testosterone. This explanation would appear to explain why a secondary analysis was carried out.
Both Donati and Schwazer’s lawyer, Gerhard Brandstätter, allege that the sample’s chain of custody from Italy to Germany is untraceable. They highlight irregularities including missing signatures and allege that the sample’s anonymity was compromised due to it being marked ‘Racines’, which is known as Schwazer’s home town as it has a small population of 4,000 people. However, as the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) chain of custody form requires the location in which the sample is taken to be identified, this allegation is understood to be more of a complaint about the WADA system identifying samples taken from athletes in remote locations.
They also point out that Schwazer’s car was broken into whilst training, yet nothing was taken. In the car was a water bottle. They also argue that the amount of testosterone found would indicate micro-doping, yet to benefit from micro-doping you need to continually ingest small amounts of a prohibited substance, yet Schwazer had reported eight months of negative tests, and his times improved after the positive test.
Schwazer was initially sanctioned with a three-year six months ban in 2013, which was later extended. Bolzano prosecutors investigating the case at the time claimed to have uncovered evidence that the IAAF knew about Schwazer’s use of erythropoietin (EPO) in April 2012. As part of the investigation, Italian police removed computers from the home and offices of Giuseppe Fischetto, a member of the IAAF’s Anti-Doping Commission. Part of the recovered data was a blood database that was used as evidence of systemic doping in Russia.
The documentary features recordings from Fischetto taken in 2013, where he claims that the hard disks contain “a ton of confidential international stuff. I hope there is no information leak, because it would be an international scandal. Just think if the Russian data gets out, or the Turks, or others…because I’m on the IAAF Committee.”
In the documentary, Schwazer complains that Fischetto was not suspended and went on to perform anti-doping roles in Russia and elsewhere, despite the evidence uncovered by the Bolzano prosecutors. This included performing an anti-doping test on Schwazer when he returned from his ban. Fischetto refuses to answer when questioned on this in the documentary.
As The Sports Integrity Initiative has reported before, it is easy to demonise athletes who have been sanctioned for doping as a drugs cheat, even when evidence runs to the contrary. Justin Gatlin is treated with almost universal scorn, despite never having been convicted of being a drugs cheat. Schwazer has been convicted and so in the eyes of the anti-doping crusade, is expendable in order to save the reputations of others.
However his allegations once again suggest that the new broom allegedly sweeping through the IAAF may still have an old handle. Russia’s systemic doping was characterised by a ‘medals over morals’ mentality that recently disgusted Sir Philip Craven, head of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). We already know that the IAAF facilitated that system by extorting money from athletes in order to cover up positive doping tests, so if true, the suggestion that IAAF officials are involved in abusing their position in order to manipulate the anti-doping system will perhaps now seem less of shock than it did in 2013. Could the manipulation of Schwazer’s sample be the last throw of the corrupt dice in order to save the jobs of IAAF officials?
We may never find out. As also demonstrated by the Justin Gatlin case, proving the sabotage of a sample is almost impossible. However, it will be interesting to see if the CAS forces the IAAF and FIDAL to answer the difficult questions concerning the chain of custody involved with Schwazer’s sample.
• On 11 August, the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed Schwazer’s appeal against his provisional suspension. For a discussion of that decision, please click here.
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