News 4 January 2016

IAAF’s lawyers warn Seppelt not to publish 2013 email

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has instructed its solicitors to send another letter of warning to Hajo Seppelt, the investigative journalist who produced a series of documentaries alleging systemic Russian doping and IAAF collusion in covering up positive tests. The letter, sent by law firm Bird & Bird on 21 December, warns Seppelt against publishing an email sent by Nick Davies in 2013, while he was IAAF Communications Director. Davies stepped aside as Director of the IAAF President’s Office just before Christmas after Le Monde published the emails, which suggest that the IAAF was planning to delay announcing Russian doping positives until after the 2013 IAAF World Championships for commercial reasons. The letter is dated 21 December 2015, the same date as Le Monde’s article.

The IAAF also confirmed that Jonathan Taylor, Head of Sports at Bird & Bird, will advise the IAAF Inspection Team that will verify whether the Russian athletics federation (ARAF) has implemented the necessary reforms in order to be reinstated as an IAAF member. “Jonathan Taylor is acting as counsel to the Taskforce, engaged by the IAAF at the request of Rune Andersen”, said an IAAF spokesperson. Taylor is not part of the IAAF Inspection Team, which was announced in November.

‘The email in question was a private email sent solely to Mr Diack [Papa Massata Diack, son of former IAAF President Lamine Diack] and has plainly been leaked, in breach of his duties of confidence, by Mr Diack’, reads the letter. ‘A statement from Mr Davies will be provided to you setting out the facts concerning the email. However, his doing so should not be interpreted to mean that you are at liberty to use the email freely…should you publish any inaccurate statements about the IAAF, Mr Davies and/or Lord Coe then we will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action.’

The letter is the third that Seppelt has received from Bird & Bird, the IAAF’s legal advisors, regarding his investigative work in exposing doping in sport. The first (below) was received on 12 December 2014 from Bird & Bird’s Hamburg office, shortly after Seppelt’s two-part documentary ‘Top secret doping: How Russia makes its winners’ aired. This warns Seppelt against ‘unauthorised use, including accessing or disclosing, highly confidential information that has been collected an stored by our client. This is understood to be compilations of the results of blood tests from 2006-2008, in particular the haemoglobin values of athletes from different nations.’

The second letter (below) was sent from Bird & Bird’s London office prior to Seppelt’s appearance at the Tackling Doping in Sport conference, organised by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and World Sports Law Report and prior to his appearance at a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) media symposium. ‘We would refer you to the correspondence you received from our Hamburg office in December 2014’, it warns. ‘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 carried out by our client. We would remind you in the strongest terms possible that any reference to or use of that information would be a very clear infringement of our client’s rights and the rights of the athletes concerned. Should our client learn that you have communicated information of this nature to any third party of any kind (other than WADA or relevant anti-doping bodies), we will be instructed to take legal action against you without further notice.’

In August, Seppelt published ‘Top secret doping: the shadowy world of athletics’, which used two scientists and researchers from the Sunday Times to analyse a database of 12,000 blood tests performed by the IAAF on 5,000 athletes from 2001-2012. The analysis concluded that many of the blood values could not be explained naturally and suggested widespread doping within athletics.

The documentary prompted a WADA investigation, which recommended that the IAAF suspend ARAF, which it did on 13 November. On 9 November, WADA suspended the Moscow anti-doping laboratory and on 19 November, it suspended the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) and five other national anti-doping organisations (NADOs).

When announcing its report on 9 November, the WADA Independent Commission made a point of thanking Seppelt for his investigative work exposing serious doping issues, as illustrated in our video below. In Bird & Bird’s March letter to Seppelt, it said that the IAAF ‘very much welcomes your contribution to the public debate in relation to the investigation and prevention of doping, and is grateful for your fearless approach to seeking to root out drug taking in sport general. That said, there have been occasions in your recent reporting when, as you know, our client considers that you have made serious factual errors which, in some cases, risk seriously undermining your credibility.’ You can read more about Seppelt’s involvement with investigating doping in sport in the Sports Integrity Initiative’s interview with him.

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