Dear WADA: The Nordic World Needs Answers

Chelsea LittleNovember 16, 2015

The following editorial was originally posted on our “From The Editors” blog. We have decided to re-post it as the World Anti-Doping Agency enters their final two days of meetings.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Executive Committee and Foundation will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday next week in Colorado Springs. The publication of the Independent Commission report on doping in Russian athletics will certainly be a hot topic of conversation.

After the publication of the report a few things moved fast: suspension of a Moscow laboratory’s accreditation, resignation of key officials, consideration of sanctions by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

But other things are moving more slowly. And for those of us whose sports are implicated but not investigated in the report, it feels like no progress has been made at all.

The mandate of the Independent Commission, stated on page 3 of their report, was first to establish whether “There have been any breaches of processes or rules (Code and International Standards) by any signatory to the Code. This includes RUSADA and IAAF, but not exclusively as there may be other National Anti-Doping Organizations (NADOs) or International Federations (IFs) also requiring such inquiry.”

In other parts of the mandate, the phrases “any organization” are used repeatedly.

While this is just the first part of the Independent Commission’s report – a summary of findings about other track and field federations is expected later this year – the Commission does not seem to have taken up the full breadth of its mandate.

There are suggestions and even quotes from whistleblowers stating that key individuals in the investigation had worked with multiple sports. The Commission did not follow up on this.

This is despite the fact that in other state-sponsored doping systems from decades past, cheating ranged across a wide range of sports. What matters at the Olympics is the medal count, and you can’t win it in just track and field. And so, without more answers, winter athletes will begin their competitive seasons in the coming weeks with the seeds of doubt and fear sown into their psyches. If there’s one thing that can crush both the joy of sport, and a good result, it’s fear.

It’s also not to discount the work which the Commission has done, which was clearly a lot. The Commission can be forgiven for feeling a bit weary – and if they are anything like us, depressed from their findings – and wanting to pass the torch.

But if that’s the case, who will take the mandate from them and run with it?

In our nordic sports, we have a sad history of doping by multiple teams through the years. We believe that our international federations are making good-faith and sophisticated efforts to catch dopers. But if the same behavior present in Russian athletics is also present in our sports, then it is hard for those efforts to completely succeed.

We need to know more about what is going on in Russia, and this information needs to be shared with other international federations.

There may be athletes in other sports who should not be allowed to compete, but who currently are.

There may be results that currently stand, but should be stricken from the record.

Here is a summary and accounting of issues identified in the report which should be followed up on:

1. Doctors working in multiple sports

One of the key figures in the report, as well as in the ARD documentaries which preceded it, is Dr. Sergey Portugalov. Portugalov provided banned substances to many athletes – apparently not just limited to runners.

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 8.30.40 AM also reported that on the website of the Russian Federal Research Centre of Physical Culture and Sports, it listed that Portugalov was a member of the FIS Medical Committee. We couldn’t find that information on the difficult-to-navigate website.

On the FIS Medical Committee’s roster, the spot for Russia is empty, with the words “prov. Suspended”.

FIS Anti-Doping administrator Sarah Fussek explained in an email to FasterSkier:

“Grigory Rodchenkov is currently being investigated based on the WADA IC report allegations, and during this time he is provisionally suspended from this function as a member of the FIS Medical Committee, as provided for by the FIS Anti-Doping Rules. He is asked to respond to the allegations until the end of November. Similarly, the Russian Ski Association has been asked to comment to the WADA IC report on the involvement and the possible affect on the FIS governed sports until end of November.”

The idea that the main supplier of banned performance-enhancing drugs to track and field athletes was also supplying them to many other athletes needs to be addressed.

Can it be established what other athletes had contact with Portugalov? These athletes, and their relationships to the doctor, should be examined.

2. The Sochi testing

Among the concrete allegations in the report are that representatives of the Russian State Security service, FSB, infiltrated the Sochi anti-doping laboratory posing as engineers.

FSB was also interested in the Moscow laboratory, and here is what they did there, according to the report:

“One laboratory staff member provided information to IC investigators about the suspected bugging or wiretapping of telephones, while another staff member reported that office spaces within the Moscow laboratory were monitored (bugged) by the FSB in order to be informed of the laboratory’s activities. This could not be independently verified by the IC, but the reported statements demonstrate the perceptions of laboratory officials, who believe they are under constant state surveillance. This perception is also fuelled by the FSB’s regular visits to the laboratory and the questioning of its staff members. For example, the IC learned that staff members were routinely questioned by FSB upon their return from global laboratory and WADA seminars. Following the airing of the ARD documentary, select laboratory staff members were directed by the FSB not to cooperate with the WADA investigation.”

In response, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) put out this statement:

“The IOC studied the functioning of the WADA accredited laboratory in Sochi during the Olympic Winter Games 2014 following the doubts expressed during the Independent Commission’s press conference. In this context the IOC relies on the then report of the WADA independent observer group which makes no mention of any such irregularity. Nor was any such irregularity reported by the international experts involved, nor found by the IOC itself. Therefore, the IOC has no reason to question the credibility of the results of the anti-doping tests carried out at the Olympic Winter Games 2014.”

This is disappointing, to say the least.

The thing about intelligence service operatives is that they hide; they pose as something other than they are; they deceive. It’s possible that the FSB in Sochi were quite convincing in this respect.

Saying that the Independent Observers did not notice anything amiss does not cut it, now that we know that there was government spying and presence in the lab and along with everything else we know about how interested the government was in manipulating sports competitions.

We hope that WADA will pressure the IOC to reverse this position and re-test the samples. If nothing additional comes up, then fantastic. But on the chance that positive results could have been suppressed, then clean athletes deserve to know the truth – and receive their medals.

3. Mishandled and misplaced samples

The report details a number of places where doping control samples were mishandled or misplaced. For instance, more than 1,400 of them were intentionally destroyed by staff in a Moscow laboratory to prevent re-testing.

Another 67 samples were moved by WADA to a Lausanne laboratory for re-testing, but then were destroyed by staff there. The Independent Commission never found a good explanation.

RUSADA was also falling down on the job of entering doping control test information (doping control forms, or DCFs) into ADAMS, the global database, which would make it available to other organizations.

From the report:

“RUSADA claimed that all DCFs were entered and up to date for the years 2014 and 2015. RUSADA pledged to enter all remaining 2012 and 2013 missing DCFs by October 31, 2015… The findings did not support RUSADA. In 2014, there were 804 non-filed DCFs and 679 in 2015.”

The report states that this was at least in part due to administration problems creating a backlog of forms. They could not conclude whether malicious intent was also involved.

But regardless, it is troubling. Between destroyed samples, changed test results, and un-entered doping control test information, how many of these tests belonged to skiers and biathletes?

That question may be un-answerable. But one can try.

4. Lack of serious testing by RUSADA

And all of that is from when tests are collected. They aren’t, always.

The report alleges not only that positive tests collected by the Russian anti-doping union could be made to go away by making a phone call and paying a bribe. It also describes how advance notification was given before doping control officers (DCOs) arrived and forms were sometimes falsified.

“Stepanov reported to the IC the following Code non-compliant behaviours among DCOs: there is a practice of taking money by DCOs at the time of testing; not following the standard for testing in particular observing the urine flow if a urine sample is taken; and failing to have adequately trained chaperones or any chaperones at all when on a mission. They would also not follow up on missions where the whereabouts location was far from where they were living but would await the re- filing of whereabouts within the region where they were presumably carried out by the athlete on knowing the sample to be taken would not trigger an AAF.”

The DCOs are employed by RUSADA, thus are not sport-specific. If they did not follow the code while testing track and field athletes there is no reason to think that they followed the code while testing athletes in other sports.

Take this comment from the ARD documentary that spurred the WADA investigation:

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 10.16.12 AM

Given that the report finds that track and field coaches, officials, and staff were aware of these problems, it should also be asked whether coaches and staff from other sports knew about and promoted this Code-noncompliant behavior.

5. The role of coaches

The report identified that within track and field, coaches pressured athletes to dope.

“Many of the more egregious offenders appear to be coaches who, themselves, were once athletes and who work in connection with medical personnel,” the Commission wrote.

This bears a resemblence to patterns we have seen in nordic sport. For instance, a non-Russian coach, Wolfgang Pichler, was brought in to coach the Russian women’s biathlon team for the first time several years ago. But some athletes preferred to train with a different coach, Vladimir Korolkevich, who had been a famed coach in the Soviet system.

Just before the 2014 Olympics, two of Korolkevich’s athletes, Ekaterina Iourieva and Irina Starykh, were caught using EPO. Yet Korolkevich was promoted over Pichler to lead the Olympic team. Rather than punishing personnel associated with doping athletes, the biathlon union rewarded them.

Neither Pichler nor Korolkevich are currently working with the Russian team. But who is? Is the organization which rewarded and promoted Korolkevich still in place? And what about cross-country skiing?

Our Request: Finish the Work You Started

From these allegations, it is clear that not only track and field, but many other sports are affected by doping in Russia (and beyond).

While is is useful to dismantle the system of doping in track and field, other sports should not be hung out to dry and left to continue operating under these conditions.

The World Cup seasons are about to start for sking and biathlon; how should athletes feel knowing that some of their competitors may have received banned substances from the same doctors who doped track and field athletes?

How should they feel knowing that their Russian competitors may have been tested far less than those from other countries, or that their doping samples may have been destroyed to avoid a positive test?

How should they feel wondering if they actually should move several places up the results sheet in all of their races in the last year? Two years? Five years? Decades?

It is not sufficient to examine track and field and then walk away.

Our sports need answers, too.

Chelsea Little

Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.

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