After seven Russian athletes were suspended in the past year for doping violations, the International Ski Federation (FIS) has voted to sanction the country’s national ski association, despite arguments that the program has already cleaned up its act.
“The onus is on them to demonstrate their commitment to anti-doping,” FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis wrote in an e-mail.
At its council meetings in Turkey on Thursday, FIS levied a $154,000 fine against the Russian Ski Association (RSA), and also issued a “strong recommendation” that the association install a new group of coaches and officials with no links to the doping scandals of the past few years.
FIS also made a specific, formal request for the removal of several officials, including Anatoly Chepalov–the coach and father of suspended former Olympic champion Julia Chepalova–as well as the removal of the coaches and “medical personnel” of Natalia Matveeva, Eugeni Dementiev, and Nina Rysina, who all tested positive for EPO in the winter of 2008-2009.
According to Lewis, the request for the removal of Chepalov and the other coaches is not binding.
But in a press release, FIS said that Russia will also be required to issue a report on the progress of its anti-doping work no later than November 1, or face further sanctions. Additional measures could include more fines, revocation of start rights for Russians at FIS races, cancellation of events in the country, or even suspension of the country’s FIS membership.
If changes are to occur in the RSA, they will likely come at the behest of the new leadership of the country’s Olympic Committee, said Andrey Kondrashov, a Russian sports commentator, in an interview.
While the RSA is an independent organization, Kondrashov said that the opinion of the Russian Olympic Committee still carries clout, given the country’s respect for “tradition.” Thus far, Alexander Zhukov, the Olympic committee’s new chairman, has taken a strong public stance against doping, saying that old attitudes should be stamped out “with scorching steel.”
However, in an Agence-France Press report on Friday, Russian Sport Minister Vitaly Mutko argued that the country had already made the necessary changes to prevent doping.
“We already assumed the measures for solving all these problems. We have changed the medical staff of both federations and seriously strengthened the coaching personnel,” he said.
No Russians were caught at the Olympics, and in its press release, FIS did acknowledge that the RSA has “expressed its sincerest remorse for the situation and informed FIS about the serious work that has been initiated at the very highest level in Russia.”
But FIS said that it still imposed the sanctions for three reasons: as a “retrospective measure, to reflect the [organization’s] strong disapproval of the situation”; to encourage the RSA to bring about “necessary, immediate” changes within the organization; and to send a message to Russia, and the world, that FIS is serious about its anti-doping work.
Alexei Sotskov, a former head coach of the Russian nordic combined team now living and working in the U.S., agreed that attitudes within the Russian ski team had already shifted.
Sotskov worked as a coach at the 2010 Olympics for the New Zealand team, and after his conversations at the Games with Russian officials—including national team sprint coach Yuri Kaminsky—Sotskov said he felt that the team was clean.
“Especially with Sochi coming up, they understand that everybody’s watching them, so they don’t want to be caught,” he said. “To say that the system is still supporting this, I think it’s a false statement—especially after talking with Kaminsky and a couple other guys.”
“Kaminsky is a smart guy, and he was clearly saying that ‘we can’t cheat—it’s not worth it for us,’” Sotskov said.
Informed of the sanctions, American athlete Kris Freeman, an outspoken critic of the Russian program, said that he welcomed the steps taken by FIS.
“It does seem like they are taking it seriously,” he said. “I didn’t really know what FIS was going to do. In the past, they’ve been too passive, but that sounds like a pretty appropriate sanction.”
FIS also officially announced Thursday the two-year suspension of Kornelia Marek, the Polish skier who was caught using EPO at the 2010 Olympic Games. Marek has 21 days to appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS); otherwise, she will be banned until March 16, 2012.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.