In Cases Like Pankratov’s, Information Can Be Tough to Come By

Nathaniel HerzSeptember 22, 20107
The International Ski Federation's rules guide the release of information in anti-doping cases.

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

Nikolai Pankratov was reportedly stopped at the Swiss border with intravenous equipment and 22 vials of a suspicious drug.

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

Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.

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  • Martin Hall

    September 23, 2010 at 8:01 am

    This one is going under the rug and it will only be through Faster Skier’s due diligence that this will end up with Pankratov being sanctioned. With this kind of accountability I hate to think of how often these kinds of cases have ended up without a sanction. It is well known when associations like FIS finally started dealing with doping after years (actually decades) of denying it’s existence that many cases never were dealt with or were swept under the rug, so these sports would not be embarrassed as to their ineptness in stopping this epidemic.
    Wide spread doping was in existence in the early 70’s amongst countries like the USSR, DDR, Czechs, the POls and anyone else behind the Iron Curtain and this travesty was finally on these associations radar in the late 90s.
    The skiers and programs that were screwed out of their rightful medals will never be known, but those numbers are a lot bigger then you could ever believe.
    This travesty definitely is a mark on Marc Hodler’s legacy and far out weighs anything he did in his long tenure as the President of the FIS.
    The FIS in all its actions tries to look like it has never done any wrongs, but when it comes to doping it is the blackest of black marks and makes them suspect in any of it’s dealings.
    Someday it will all come out—there are people who know!

  • Mike Trecker

    September 23, 2010 at 8:44 am

    FIS, UCI, IAAF, FIFA, IBU, NFL, MLB, NBA, FINA……Not a single one of these governing bodies benefits from drug positives and possession cases, however, they do benefit greatly when they sweep the crap under the rug. Thank goodness for WADA, otherwise we’d be back in the 70’s right about now.

    Someone once said to me, “I wish they just had a top fuel category and we could see what that looked like.” My response…”We’ve ALREADY seen that!!”

  • davord

    September 25, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    I totally agree Martin Hall. Let’s just not even invite any Poles, Czechs, Russians, Slovaks, Germans, Romanians, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Slovenians, Hungarians, Serbs, Kazakhs, Ukrainians, Bosnians, Estonians, Latvians, Croatians, Lithuanians, Belorussians, or Greeks to any more FIS-sanctioned races, ever. We now know that Finns and Austrians doped, heck even the Italians have been noted as potentially using drugs in the 80’s and 90’s. The French? Well they are French. The Swiss and the Swedes? Well they are neutral, so we’ll let them be. So, who do we have left? Norwegians, Americans and Canadians. Great idea, why didn’t I think of that!?!

    Well, here’s my 2.5 cents. I don’t know what you have against Europe and specifically eastern Europe, but whatever it is it seems pretty redundant, scary, and dare I say, rude. I would suggest you take a vacation and visit all of the countries I wrote at the top. By doing so, you will find out that each country has quite a lot of positive things to show to the rest of the world, even to cold-war era folks that have no peripheral vision like yourself.

    The second point is, if Actovegin is not on WADA’s banned list, what’s the big problem? 90% of the Norwegian national team has asthma, and are taking subscriptions that are illegal according to WADA, yet FIS+ anti-doping organizations haven’t even flinched.
    To add, Ethiopian distance runners use calf’s blood in their daily diets, it’s part of their culture (think PowerBar in the States). Are they doping? Don’t think so!

    You gotta come up with something better than “wide spread doping was in existence in the early 70’s amongst countries like the USSR, DDR, Czechs, the POls and anyone else behind the Iron Curtain…” Who told you that, a Norwegian coach, back in 1979? Wow, just wow…
    p.s., Sarajevo and it’s surroundings is a beautiful area with friendly, hard working people, beutiful forrests, snowy winters, and great accomodation, especially in 1984.

  • Martin Hall

    September 27, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    I totally agree Martin Hall. Let’s just not even invite any Poles, Czechs, Russians, Slovaks, Germans, Romanians, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Slovenians, Hungarians, Serbs, Kazakhs, Ukrainians, Bosnians, Estonians, Latvians, Croatians, Lithuanians, Belorussians, or Greeks to any more FIS-sanctioned races, ever. davord, what ever that represents—you said that—I don’t see that anywhere in what I wrote–that’s for starters!
    I have nothing against Eastern Europe–but I do against a lot of their cheating ski programs—until you’ve been there and done that—raced at the Olympics, World Champs., World Cups and have seen your skiers cheated out of their rightful places in the results, had you programs deprived of their rightful funding because of the lack of those results, you get very bitter over the lack of resolve by your own federations and the international federations to take the steps to eradicate these people and programs. Since doping continues on, especially in the Russian program at a fairly high rate—it shows that the resolve is still not there to the degree it should be.
    It is FIS that has issued the statement that the Russians may be sanctioned from the next Olympics—which just so happens to be in Russia.
    When it comes to my appreciation of all those countries you listed and I have been to a lot more of them then you probably have been—they are all cool in their own way. So, you were in Sarajevo in ’84—where you on the US team? Because I guess you forgot about all the tanks spread all over the city and surrounding area, or the military guards every 200 yards on every xc course—you could feel freedom everywhere!! Tell me about it—I was there and know all the hoops we jumped through to get us into the country—before the games ever began and then what it was like getting in and getting out.
    Vegan is not the issue for the Pankratov scenario, it is the IV paraphernalia, that he was caught with. Vegan is not illegal while the IV paraphernalia is—got it?
    davord—who are you–stand up—it is apparent you are a very angry person and definitely were reading something different then what I wrote—I think half a century is a long enough period of time for this drug thing to have on gone for. Up the penalty to 5 years and it will stop!
    In the final days of the Calgary Olympics, Pierre Harvey came to me and said I’m done with international racing—I’m tired of the dopers showing up, not being caught, and I can’t even make the top ten, when I’ve been beating these guys these past few years all the time. His wife made him go back to Scandinavia for the last 2 World Cups, which I’m sure you wouldn’t know, and won both of them. What’s that about?
    As my old friend Bjorger use to say, “You don’t have a clue!”
    If you do want to get a clue, read “Faust’s Gold-In Side the East German Doping Machine” and then talk to me.
    I think you’re looking very foolish when it comes to your knowledge and what you have written of what has taken place over the years when it comes to what those years and experiences should have been for the clean skiers and their programs. You definitely are not thinking of them.Good luck.

  • davord

    September 27, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    No actually I do have a clue, that’s why I responded to your comment. I stand by my comment, and from looking at your history, I am guessing you will stand by yours. You want to talk about who’s angry? Look in the mirror. Again, you are bringing in US vs THEM, EAST vs WEST. It’s a very old argument that’s about to lose it’s backbone. I am sorry you weren’t able to achieve more medals with the North Americans, but attacking others because they come from somewhere else won’t do you much good, especially considering it’s been 20+years since.
    Peace, Joe.

  • Martin Hall

    September 28, 2010 at 9:23 am

    That’s right—I am pissed off—not for myself—but for those skiers who got royally screwed by the lack of a system that represented their rights to competing in a dope free environment, and the lack of effort by the politicians then and now to really clean up sport. Their efforts for decades were pitiful and still are.
    In reading your responses it is like you are supporting the efforts of the dopers, and especially the Eastern block doping programs.
    It maybe 20 years in your mind—but since 2002, the Russians alone have accounted for MORE then a dozen doping infractions—you do remember the Beckie Scott fiasco in Salt Lake in 2002—wake up, Joe—it is still going on—check out Russia’s shenanigans for the last 5 years. You’re a sleep at the keyboard my man—time to do some research and catch up!!
    Also, you have no idea of the time (years) these skiers put in to finally make it internationally, and then to have what is really theirs rightfully, to have a fair and clean chance to go for it, taken from them by the dopers—you make that sound as if it is OK and stop crying over spilled milk.
    I think it is cool that Faster Skier is holding FIS’s nose to the candle and writing about it. They need to be accountable—I sometimes wonder who are the victims here—the clean, non doping skiers or the dopers—it isn’t that clear.
    Like I said—go read “Faust’s Gold”–then you’ll realize it was one ton of medals that went to the wrong people. That is just not right—I don’t care what you say.

  • tomTom

    September 28, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Johan Mühlegg, Harri Kirvesniemi, Virpi Kuitunen, Mika Myllylä, Jari Isometsä … yes I do have a lot against their cheating ski programs too

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