Nikolai Pankratov’s reported detainment at the Swiss border made waves in the cross-country skiing community when the news broke last week. But since then, there’s been barely a ripple of information to emerge from the International Ski Federation (FIS)—which, according to the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, is in charge of handling the case.
What is known about Pankratov is this: according to multiple reports, the Russian cross-country skier was stopped at the Swiss border with intravenous equipment and 22 vials of Actovegin, a drug derived from calf’s blood. While Actovegin is suspicious, its use is not banned—Pankratov ran afoul of FIS through his possession of the IV, which is prohibited.
FIS has refused to confirm the existence of a case against Pankratov. And even if an investigation is indeed underway, FIS is not required to disclose any information about it, unless Pankratov is found guilty and sanctioned by a three-person FIS panel.
According to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) spokesman Frédéric Donzé, the rules governing the release of information by sport federations like FIS are guided by the World Anti-Doping Code, which Donzé dubbed “the framework of the fight against doping.”
In order to be considered compliant by WADA, FIS and other federations—like those governing biathlon, swimming, and track and field—must adopt fundamental provisions in the Code, which outlines standards for drug testing, sample analysis, hearings, and other anti-doping procedures. As long as these basic rules are followed, each federation is free to apply its own sport-specific policies on top of them.
The Code has two key provisions regarding disclosure. The first states that in a pending case, the identity of an athlete accused of breaking the rules cannot be released until after he or she has been notified of the potential violation. The second requires that federations publicly report the cases of athletes who have been found guilty of doping, within 20 days of the ruling.
That leaves some leeway for the sports, although according to WADA board member and former president Dick Pound, federations generally try to avoid disclosing information unnecessarily before the resolution of a case. “Most of the leaks you get in the media tend to come from the athletes or their entourage—it’s very seldom from the doping authorities,” he said.
“You don’t want to expose an athlete to all this if nothing comes of it,” Pound continued. “If the B-sample doesn’t confirm the A…or if you find out that there was [a medical exemption], you don’t want there to have been a whole bunch of publicity.”
Some federations, like the International Cycling Union (UCI), do take a more proactive approach. According to spokesman Enrico Carpani, in the event of
a positive drug test, the UCI will publish a press release that contains the rider’s name, information about where and when the test took place, and the type of substance the rider was using—all before the case has been heard, and even before the test of the B-sample.
Others, like the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which governs track and field, are more circumspect. In an interview, Results Manager Thomas Capdevielle said that his organization “does not spontaneously communicate” about positive drug tests (except for when violations occur at a championship, in which case an expedited process goes forward).
Disclosure, Capdevielle said, is delegated to the accused athlete’s national track and field association, and “it’s their decision” to release any information.
But while Carpani and Capdevielle were referring to the procedures to be followed in the event of a positive drug test, Pankratov’s situation is different, since a case against him would likely hinge on what is known as a “non-analytical finding”—based on possession rather than a positive test.
According to Capdevielle, non-analytical findings are harder to prove, and the evidence against the athlete in such cases is not usually as damning as if he or she had tested positive for a banned substance—justifying greater confidentiality until a ruling has been made.
“It’s very tricky, and they’re often long investigations,” Capdevielle said. “I would understand why a federation would take a conservative approach in a non-analytical case.”
FIS’s anti-doping rules allow—but do not require—the release of an accused athlete’s identity as soon as he or she has been “provisionally suspended.” Such measures are used to keep athletes from competing in the period between a positive drug test (or non-analytical finding), and the time their case is heard.
In an e-mail to FasterSkier, FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis suggested that her organization’s approach to disclosure depends on the type of violation alleged.
“From the FIS perspective, it is not possible to treat potential [cases] involving a positive sample with the same policy as those without,” she said. “Individual case management is required.”
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.