17th March 2021

Open Letter accuses media of trying to destroy Bulgarian swimming

An Open Letter published on the Bulgarian Swimming Federation (Българска федерациця плувни спортове) internet site has accused the media of attempting to destroy Bulgarian swimming, following claims that three adverse analytical findings (AAFs) for stanozolol were caused by pills distributed at a training camp. The Letter repeats previous claims made in a statement issued by the БФПС (BFPS) – that the national anti-doping centre (BADC) confirmed that manipulation of samples is impossible; and that a lack of other adverse analytical findings (AAFs) means that no systematic doping is taking place in Bulgarian swimming.

The Open Letter

The Open Letter is entitled ‘Hands Off Bulgarian Swimming’, and was written by Nikolai Chalyov (Николай Чальов), Chairman of the KPOSK Slavia swimming club in Sofia. ‘With this Letter, we express our full support for the BFPS and the management of the national team’, it reads. ‘Today, 9 March 2021, the test of Gabriela Georgieva (Габриела Георгиева) came out, which is the third negative after those of Joseph Miladinov (Йосиф Миладинов) and Kaloyan Levterov (Калоян Левтеров), which shows that in the Bulgarian national swimming team, there is no practice of using prohibited substances.

‘The broadcast report [bTV’s 6 March report], without any real evidence, suggests that the BFPS and the national team’s staff are responsible for the positive doping tests, insinuating that the vitamins and supplements given to competitors are banned substances. Presented in this way, the bTV investigation discredits the work of all coaches and activists working in the field of Bulgarian swimming.

‘The provision of recovery agents in a plastic cup has been overstated, suggesting that this approach is uncontrolled. This creates bewilderment and concern in us, the parents, who have unconditional trust in the system and the approach of the BFPS.

‘The suggestion that the “secret” recording [click here for more information on this] gave rise to – that somebody could influence or manipulate doping samples – is unthinkable and was confirmed by the national anti-doping centre. Without any reason, in its next article bTV talked about a “boycott” of the camp from 1 March 2021, which was another insinuation and opposed by athletes who train inside and outside Bulgaria. Proof of this false allegation is provided by the fact that at the moment, all Olympic athletes are in a training camp in Dianabad [Дианабад].

‘Under the pretext of “hearing other opinions” outside of the narrow circle of those affected, conversations were broadcast with national athletes who have stopped competing and others who are already competing for other countries. They told blatant untruths on national air, disgracing Bulgarian swimming, seeking fleeting glory on the backs of the BFPS and the Bulgarian coaches who built them as athletes […] We are writing this letter because through the actions of television, we see an attempt to ruin and destroy Bulgarian swimming, which in the last year has been on an unreliable rise, which has not happened for decades.’

Context

On 23 February, Zdravko Bablakov (Здравко Баблаков), Svetlozar Nikolov (Светлозар Николов), and Blagoy Panayotov (Благой Панайотов) were provisionally suspended due to an AAF for stanozolol as a result of an out of competition (OOC) test conducted on 4 February. The three swimmers allege that the AAFs were due to pills given to them at a training camp at the Belmeken Sports Complex in the Rila Mountains – part of the country’s National Sports Base.

Dr. Lubomir Petrov (Любомир Петров), the doctor alleged to have given pills to the trio at the Belmeken training camp, 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.

As well as being Chairman of Sofia’s KPOSK Slavia swimming club, the author of the Open Letter – Nikolai Chalyov – is also involved in running the swimming programme for RIN Sports. The company also operates mountain swimming camps for children under the age of 16 at Razlog and Chepelare.

Nikolai Chalyov is listed as the main swimming contact for swimming camp organiser RIN Sports…

‘The camps organised by RIN are divided into Summer and Winter and the sports activity is concentrated on skiing in Winter and swimming in Summer’, reads RIN Sports’ website. ‘Our camps aim to upgrade already acquired sports stills and give opportunities to teenagers’. Chalyov is listed as RIN Sports’ main contact for swimming.

Despite raising concerns about bTV interviewing former swimmers, the Open Letter is signed by seven of them. They are Tanya Bogomilova (Таня Бгомилова), who won Gold in the 100m Breaststroke at the Seoul 1988 Olympics and her former coach and now husband Georgi Dangalakov (Георги Дангалаков), also a former swimmer and founder of the KPS Olympia Sofia swimming club; Bistra Gospodinova (Бистра Господинова), who also competed at Seoul 1988; Stefan Georgiev (Стефан Георгиев), who competed at the Montreal 1976 Olympics; Georgi Mihalev (Георги Михалев), who competed at the Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992 Olympics; Martin Zhelev (Мартин Желев), and Ventsislav Aidarski (Венцислав Айдарски), who competed at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics.

The Open Letter is also signed by the three current national team members mentioned by Chalyov in the Open Letter that recently returned negative tests (Georgieva, Miladinov, and Levterov); as well as by their teammates Georgi Yanev (Георги Янев) Petar Micin (Петър Мицин), Kalina Nikolaeva (Калина Николаева), and Tonislav Sabev (Тонислав Събев). It also claims support from 36 of Bulgaria’s 54 swimming clubs.

However as previously reported, Antani Ivanov (Антъни Иванов) said that he would not participate in any training camps until the entire coaching staff is replaced. Ekaterina Avramova (Екатерина Аврамова) and Diana Petkova (Диана Петкова) alleged that they were given pills at training camps in a similar manner. 

Whilst swimmers based in Bulgaria are not openly supporting the the three swimmers, an online campaign has been launched to raise funds for their defence by the parents of Bulgarian swimmers. This contradicts Chalyov’s claim that parents have ‘unconditional trust’ in the BFPS, as stated in the Open Letter.

As previously reported, a lack of AAFs doesn’t necessarily mean that no doping is taking place. It can mean the exact opposite. Russia didn’t report a single AAF at the Sochi 2014 Olympics. However, by December 2017, 46 Russians had been disqualified from the Games. This was achieved through manipulation of samples, which both the BFPS and Chalyov claim is impossible.

The idea put forward by the BFPS and Chalyov, that Bulgarian swimming is the innocent victim of a media campaign lacks a motive. Why would the media seek to damage a sport that stands to generate coverage during the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics? Similarly, why would Bulgarian swimmers based overseas be jealous turncoats bent on casting a shadow over the sport?

To find similar arguments, one only has to look back a few years. Russia’s State doping programme was only exposed after whistleblowers such as Vitaly and Yuliya Stepanov and Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov left the country. No resident Russians have spoken out about the State doping programme apart from Andrey Dmitriev, who in 2017 was forced to flee Russia against his wishes.

There is a simple reason why so few spoke out. The Russian State didn’t want State doping exposed. In 2016, former Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) Director Nikita Kamaev and its Founding Chairman, Vyacheslav Sinev, died within two weeks of each other. The two had discussed collaborating with the International Network of Doping Research (INDR) on an exposé style book discussing doping.

There is no suggestion that anything so nefarious is going on in Bulgaria. But the similarity of arguments put forward by the BFPS and Chalyov should arouse the suspicion of anti-doping investigators.

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