18th March 2020

Sanctions against RusAF aren’t about doping

Last week’s Decision by World Athletics to sanction the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) wasn’t taken because World Athletics thinks that vast numbers of Russian track and field athletes are doping. It was taken because of RusAF’s response to charges that officials had fabricated medical records and falsified information to assist high jumper Danil Lysenko cover up a whereabouts anti-doping rule violation (ADRV).

RusAF initially denied the charges. However after the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) of World Athletics recommended expelling RusAF, Russia’s Ministry of Sport suspended its State accreditation. On 3 March, after a change of leadership, RusAF admitted that its former administration had both obstructed and failed to cooperate with the investigations of the AIU.

In other words, it took a change in administration for RusAF to admit officials had assisted an athlete to cover up an ADRV, and obstructed the investigations of an international federation. It would appear that the previous administration of RusAF was prepared to forge documentation and lie so that a successful athlete could continue to compete on the international stage.

‘This was a conscious and wilful conspiracy by senior RusAF officials and an athlete who had been granted Authorised Neutral Athlete [ANA] status to fabricate evidence and cover up an anti-doping rule violation’, read World Athletics’ explanation of its decision (PDF below). ‘It suggests that despite all the time and effort that the Taskforce and Council have put into the reinstatement process [RusAF was suspended on 13 November 2015], to date RusAF has only paid lip service to satisfaction of the reinstatement conditions. In fact, there has been little or no change in the deep-seated culture of lack of respect for anti-doping norms and lack of integrity in addressing doping in Russian athletics, including active efforts to support and/or cover up anti-doping rule violations by Russian athletes. In short, this is another gross betrayal of trust that compounds the harm done by the previous regime.’

Given the above, one might argue that a US$10 million fine as well as a new reinstatement plan for RusAF is an appropriate punishment. However, World Athletics’ Decision to reinstate the ANA approval process, but limit it to ten ANAs in certain events for the remainder of 2020, has faced criticism from some quarters. 

Critics argue that clean athletes are being punished for the actions of their national federation, and have asked why a limit of ten ANAs was set for major events. A valid question.

As a reminder, the ANA process allows athletes who can prove that they are untouched by Russian State doping to compete internationally under a neutral flag. In the above decision, World Athletics explains that it took the decision to limit ANAs because Lysenko was an ANA, and because ‘measures originally taken by Council (suspending RusAF’s membership but permitting Russian athletes to participate in international competitions on a neutral basis) have apparently been insufficient to prompt the required change in culture and behaviour in Russian athletics’. But this doesn’t explain why only 10 ANAs will be able to compete in the Olympic Games; the World Athletics Series; and the European Championships.

‘We have had to strike a balance between separating the clean athletes from a tainted system and determining sanctions for RusAF that are more likely to provoke behavioural change within the organisation’, wrote a World Athletics spokesperson in an email. ‘The reintroduction of an ANA process without a cap allows Russian athletes who are part of international and domestic drug-testing pools to compete in international one-day meetings where they can earn a living from the sport. The cap of ten athletes for the Olympic Games was agreed because it restricts Russia to a very small representation in athletics at the Olympic Games, but also takes into account the number of athletes who have been part of the International Testing Pool and therefore subject to stringent doping controls for an extended period.’

There are currently eight ANAs featured on World Athletics’ International Registered Testing Pool (IRTP) – to give the concept its full name. For those not familiar with the term, in an international federation’s case the IRTP refers to the highest priority athletes established at international level by an international federation who are subject to testing and whereabouts requirements as part of that international federation’s Test Distribution Plan (TDP). Each anti-doping organisation, such as an international federation, must produce a TDP outlining how it plans to effectively test athletes.

Ancient history

Critics argue that punishing clean Russian athletes with a limit of 10 ANAs is unfair, because Russia lags behind other countries in WADA’s anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) figures. Whilst this is true, it neglects the history behind RusAF’s suspension from World Athletics; the circumstances of Lysenko’s case; and the sanctioning powers available to World Athletics.

Almost six years on, it is easy to forget the extent of manipulation of the doping control system discovered in Russia. RusAF wasn’t suspended because vast numbers of Russian athletes were reporting ADRVs. It was suspended for engineering a system to cover up ADRVs in exchange for money. It goes without saying that such a system, if successful, would result in Russia reporting few ADRVs.

It appears that RUSADA manipulated its testing figures…

Athletics officials were extorting money from Russian athletes in order to cover up positive tests. WADA’s Independent Commission found that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was complicit by providing advance notice of doping controls. It had been manipulating its test figures for years. The head of the Moscow Laboratory concocted an elaborate scheme to ensure that no Russian adverse analytical findings (AAFs or ‘positive tests’) were reported at Sochi 2014, let alone any ADRVs.

It was a State directed system. Although WADA’s second investigator, Richard McLaren, changed his definition to suit Russia’s politicians, he didn’t change his view that Russia’s Ministry of Sport directed the manipulations. 

Shlyakhtin is a former Head of the CSKA…

Danil Lysenko was an ANA, charged with reporting three whereabouts failures. RusAF apparently helped him by falsifying information and forging documents. Its former President, Dmitry Shlyakhtin (Дмитрий Шляхтин) appears to have State connections. There are concerns that its new President, Yevgeny Yurchenko (Евгений Юрченко) also has State connections, just as there are concerns that RusAF and the State may have been involved in a cover up of ADRVs in the Chuvash Republic.

This isn’t about doping. There is no question that the ANA limits are unfair on young Russian athletes, many of whom may have been too young to have been affected by Russian State doping. 

But it is important to clarify that the limit of 10 ANAs only applies at three major events. It isn’t designed to stop young athletes from competing internationally. World Athletics’ decision clarifies that the limit will not apply at the World u20 Championships or to u15 athletes.

World Athletics has no jurisdiction over politicians. It can only use the sanctioning powers available to it in order to effect change, and the targeting of its limit at major events suggests that is what it is trying to do. Perhaps it is time for Russian athletes to listen to their international federation, rather than a national federation that has been continually discredited for almost six years.

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