News 13 January 2016

Letters show IAAF had concerns about Russia in 2009

Letters sent by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to the Russian athletics federation (ARAF) show that in 2009, senior staff had serious concerns both over the extent of Russian doping and apparent attempts to circumvent doping control. Additional documents, also obtained by the Associated Press (AP), allegedly show how IAAF officials considered collaborating with Russian officials to delay the announcement of doping positives by prominent Russian athletes until after the London 2012 Olympic Games.

‘The blood levels of the Russian athletes in Birmingham [World Half Marathon Championships] were also high, with three of the five athletes tested recording very suspicious values’, reads a 14 October 2009 letter from IAAF General Secretary Pierre Weiss delivered by hand to Valentin Balakhnichev (pictured), who was then ARAF President and IAAF Treasurer (PDF below). ‘In fact, two of these athletes actually recorded some of he highest values ever seen since the IAAF started testing for blood. These results are startling because not only are these athletes cheating their fellow competitors, but at these levels are putting their health and even their own lives in very serious danger […] It is again mainly the walking athletes (from Berlin) whose blood values strongly suggest a systematic abuse of blood doping or EPO related products.’

The letter warned ARAF that had a ‘no start’ rule been in place, then seven athletes would not have been allowed to start at the 2009 Berlin IAAF World Championships, ‘including two of your three gold medalists’. An earlier 6 July 2009 letter, also from Weiss, had warned ARAF that unless procedures within Russia were modified to enable easier testing of elite athletes, sanctions would follow. ‘The IAAF is not able to accept a situation where athletes (particularly those who are [sic.] a chance of winning in Berlin), are not available for testing prior to the Championships’.

The letter also highlighted other difficulties that the IAAF and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) had encountered whilst attempting to test elite athletes in Russia. This included athletes claiming to be at military camps up until the date of major championships; legislation preventing the export of biological samples outside of Russia; and legislation prohibiting foreign doping control officers (DCOs) from operating in Russia. It also highlighted seven suspicious samples from Russian athletes at the European race walking Team Championships in Portugal and eight at the European Race Walking Cup in Metz.

The letters were published yesterday – the same day on which the IAAF denied ‘covering up’ positive Russian doping tests in an extraordinary 30-page document. The fact that the letters were authored by Weiss places in doubt the IAAF’s assertion that ‘only a very small number of individuals associated with the IAAF are believed to have been involved in the alleged corruption’.

The ‘internal papers’ also obtained by AP, which were not published, reportedly reveal that the IAAF proposed hiding the publication of doping sanctions relating to less well-known Russian athletes from public view until after the London 2012 Olympic Games. The IAAF told AP that this was never put into practice. Nick Davies, Director of the IAAF President’s office, stepped aside in December after Le Monde published emails in which he suggested not announcing IAAF doping positives until after the 2013 Moscow IAAF World Championships, due to the IAAF’s perception that to do so could damage its sponsorship contract with Russian bank VTB.

On the same day as Le Monde’s article, 21 December, the IAAF sent a letter via its solicitors to journalist Hajo Seppelt, warning him not to publish Davies’ email. It has also emerged that the IAAF has been investigating IAAF and Russian collusion since at least April 2014 and possibly as far back as July 2013. All of these facts put into doubt the IAAF’s claim, made yesterday, that staff members did not become aware of any alleged corruption until late 2014.

An 2012 internal brief sent to Lamine Diack, then IAAF President, also estimated that 42% of tested Russian elite athletes had doped, claimed AP. The IAAF yesterday said that it was not aware that Diack had been involved in alleged corruption until November 2015. The internal brief obtained by AP also apparently warned that suspected doping in Turkey, Spain, Morocco and the Ukraine was also worrying.

It will be interesting to see whether the Independent Commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has taken such evidence into account in its second report, which will explore allegations made in a documentary, released by Seppelt in August, ‘Top Secret Doping: The shadowy world of athletics’. This analysed a database of 12,000 blood tests performed on 5,000 athletes from 2001-2012, experts concluding that many of the blood values could not be explained naturally.

‘This Report also identifies corruption and bribery practices at the highest levels of international athletics, evidence of which has been transmitted to Interpol for appropriate investigation’, said the 9 November WADA Independent Commission report. ‘Publication of the information will be delayed until decisions are taken by the competent authorities regarding potential criminal prosecutions’. WADA confirmed that the report will be announced at 3pm CET tomorrow, indicating that decisions on criminal prosecutions relating to the case must have already been made.

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