A new documentary titled “Doping – Top Secret: Showdown for Russia” aired on Germany’s ARD news channel on Wednesday.
Allegations in the documentary opened a new possibility for how Russian sports officials avoided positive tests by doped athletes: did they use the Anti-Doping Administration and Management System, ADAMS, to learn when their athletes would be tested and warn staff who might be able to help athletes avoid positive tests?
“The ADAMS doping control database provided to [Anti-Doping Organizations] is an essential tool for managing both an in- and out-of-competition doping control program,” the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) explains on its website. “Coordination of doping control programs in the ADAMS system helps to avoid duplication of testing efforts and harmonizes communications between testing authorities, sample collection agencies as well as WADA accredited laboratories.”
But it may have been used for something else.
The 35-minute piece put together by journalist Hajo Seppelt primarily focused on what Russia should have to do in order to send athletes to the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
After widespread indignation over the last year about rampant doping in Russia, Seppelt questioned whether Russia was making a good-faith effort to change. Collusion had been revealed in several of his previous documentaries, as well as by pieces in The New York Times, Sunday Mail, 60 Minutes, and by the World Anti-Doping Agency Independent Commission.
This time, Seppelt revealed more than ever about the involvement of the Ministry of Sport and specific government officials in covering up doping so that Russian athletes could compete – with great success – on the international stage.
Buried in the documentary was an allegation that for two winter sports, the Ministry of Sport had worked to warn coaches and athletes before visits from doping control officers.
The allegations involved Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko and his anti-doping advisor Natalia Zhelanova, and came from a document signed by Grigoriy Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory who has since fled to the U.S. and cooperated with The New York Times.
“Zhelanova deliberately evaded and undermined Test Distribution Plans of [International Ski Federation] and [International Biathlon Union]. Usually, RUSADA was informed two or three days before their [doping control officers] should collect samples from the Russian national team. [Name redacted] immediately notified Zhelanova, then the latter notified Head coaches, and the national team had change location, just escaped.”
Zhelanova was a member of the WADA Finance and Administration Committee from 2010 until 2015.
The documentary notes that not everyone approved of this policy. RUSADA Executive Director Nikita Kamaev apparently registered his concern, telling Zhelanova that “RUSADA was losing credits” in terms of respect and credibility.
Kamaev died unexpectedly in February at age 52. He had resigned after the first WADA Independent Commission report.
The ADAMS system is used by anti-doping agencies for a variety of purposes. One of the main uses is for athletes to report where they are living, training, or staying, a so-called “whereabouts” report.
If a doping control officer comes for a visit and the athlete cannot be located where they said they would be, it is considered a whereabouts violation. Three such violations over the course of 12 months can lead to a suspension from competition.
According to WADA numbers, 21 athletes from different countries had third-strike violations in 2014.
But another use of ADAMS is for the multiple authorities which test athletes to report and coordinate their efforts. For instance, an athlete is subject to testing by both their international federation and their national anti-doping organization.
“Where reasonably feasible, testing shall be coordinated through ADAMS or another system approved by WADA, in order to maximize the effectiveness of the combined testing effort and to avoid unnecessary repetitive testing,” the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code states.
This use of the system actually addressed complaints by athletes that they were tested to often and too disruptively, according to International Biathlon Union (IBU) Vice President for Medical Issues Jim Carrabre.
“Each nation has access to that data for their national athletes in the IBU test pool so that we minimize the probability of having two separate test authorities test an athlete on the same day,” he wrote in an email. “We each could still choose to do this if we wished but the benefits would be minimal. This was earlier a major complaint by athletes from many countries, and this access in ADAMS improved this complaint immensely.”
FIS Anti-Doping Administrator Sarah Fussek explained the use of the ADAMS system slightly differently.
“If you do register an exact mission in ADAMS beforehand, another organisation can only see this planned testing if the testing organisation has set explicit access in ADAMS for this purpose for each individual organisation,” she wrote in an email on Saturday. “At FIS this is currently not the case for any [national anti-doping agency] and vice versa.”
FIS does register tests in ADAMS once they have been completed.
Carrabre has been a huge proponent of targeted testing, which snagged two Russian biathletes in the leadup to the 2014 Olympics.
But he confirmed that all of the tests ordered by the IBU were not only carried out by RUSADA, historically, but were also entered into ADAMS where RUSADA could access them.
“RUSADA could therefore notify internally any one if they had intentions of cheating the system,” he wrote. “This could have occurred but they would have had to check the system regularly if they wanted to know IBU test plans on Russian athletes when they were tested outside Russia. I presume that this was not done or otherwise we would have not caught the ones that we did.”
That’s why even aggressive testing by international federations could have been circumvented by individuals or agencies in Russia: whereabouts violation in reverse.
And, if this was the mechanism used by Zhelanova to warn teams before testing occurred, it could potentially have jeopardized testing by any international federation using ADAMS to pre-register its tests with the national anti-doping organization, as was encouraged by WADA.
Aggressive Testing, For Good or For Naught
Some federations have had concerns about Russian anti-doping efforts for years.
The International Ski Federation (FIS) caught a number of Russian cross-country skiers doping in the mid- to late-2000s, and in June 2010 sanctioned the Russian Ski Association. After fining the federation $185,000, FIS declined to press further sanctions and in November 2010 wrote in a press release that the federation had taken “positive steps” in anti-doping.
At the same time, FIS was avoiding relying on RUSADA to carry out testing missions to a large extent, instead relying on companies which train doping control officers and do the sample collection themselves.
“There was quite a lot of testing missions which were coordinated with [the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, RUSADA], but most were carried out by the FIS-appointed doping control agency with their own personnel and equipment,” FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis explained to FasterSkier in May. “Most samples were transported to a different laboratory, in Lausanne or Cologne or somewhere else. We weren’t in the position that they could be manipulated in the Moscow laboratory.”
In an email on Thursday, FIS Anti-Doping Administrator Sarah Fussek said that the organization also did not usually notify RUSADA if and when tests were going to take place.
“With the exception of a handful missions, testing in Russia was carried out by a private sample collection provider,” she wrote. “We did have a couple of joint missions some years. Otherwise FIS testing did not give notice to RUSADA when conducting missions within Russia.”
As such, Fussek was confident that the FIS testing program was adequate to ensure that Russian athletes were mostly not cheating.
“Keeping in mind that you can never guarantee that every athlete is clean, we strongly believe that our programme covered testing in the country well and that we did all possible efforts to achieve a regular at home testing on Russian athletes (who most time of the year travelling on the World Cup circuit, plus training camps outside Russia and are tested there regularly as well),” she wrote.
The IBU was also watching Russia closely. The biathlon governing body fined the Russian Biathlon Union in 2015 after multiple athletes had positive tests.
“In the years three years prior to Sochi, the new administration in [the Russian Biathlon Union], Mr Mikhail Prokorov and Mr Sergei Krushenko, were verbally and financially committed to antidoping,” Carrabre wrote. “I had personal meetings with them and they went from one of the countries with the least number of internal antidoping tests to the country with the most number of internal tests in IBU. This effort was appreciated by myself and IBU and was, in my opinion, a large step in the right direction. I even publicly commended the RBU for this action. As I also said publicly, the number of tests does not always equal quality tests so the IBU would not decrease its efforts despite the testing of the RBU.”
The increased number of tests did catch some regional-level athletes, but no Russian Biathlon Union testing ever led to the suspension of a national-team athlete.
IBU testing, however, did, in particular when they tested outside of Russia. As Fussek had noted, athletes spend almost the entire winter, as well as periods of the offseason, training and competing in Europe, offering ample time to take many anti-doping samples.
“No national or international level athletes were ever found with their testing,” Carrabre said of the Russian Biathlon Union. “It was therefore surprising that the IBU would catch several of their athletes in the year prior to Sochi with testing performed outside of Russia while their athletes were at international training camps.”
Superficial Admissions of Guilt
The Ministry of Sport denied that they had interfered with RUSADA business in any way – or that such interference would even be possible.
“How can I exert influence there?” Mutko asked, rhetorically, in the new ARD documentary. “What influence can we exercise on the personnel of the anti-doping organizations?”
Just two days before the documentary aired, Zhelanova had done a question-and-answer session on Twitter, where she stressed that Russia was changing. The full exchanges from June 6 can be found on her twitter feed.
“The state has taken a lead in doing everything to demonstrate we are reforming and have nothing to hide,” she tweeted to Associated Press reporter Rob Harris.
In discussing the past doping problems, she put the blame squarely on athletes.
“We think guilty athletes should be punished individually,” she tweeted to University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke Jr.
And Zhelanova seemed to admit that even today, it is difficult for doping control officers to do their jobs. U.K. Anti-Doping, which took over testing in Russia after RUSADA was stripped of its authority, reported in May that 40 percent of the tests it was supposed to carry out were impossible because they couldn’t locate the athlete.
Evading a sample or refusing to give a sample are both considered Anti-Doping Rule Violations, the same as a positive test or three missed whereabouts.
The current procedure for testing seemed to still be under negotiation. U.K. Anti-Doping had reported that Russia requested 30-day notice before testing of any athletes in military areas, which is clearly not standard operating procedure in the world of anti-doping.
“We agreed a procedure with WADA to help doping inspectors to carry out their important jobs,” Zhelanova tweeted in response to Rachel Axon of USA Today.
But what is there to discuss? In 2006, the Russian Federation ratified the International Convention Against Doping in Sport, under the purview of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Article 12 states,
“States Parties shall, where appropriate:
(a) encourage and facilitate the implementation by sports organizations and anti-doping organizations within their jurisdiction of doping controls in a manner consistent with the Code, including no-advance notice, out-of-competition and in-competition testing…”
The 2015 World Anti-Doping Code further states that “Each government will take all actions and measures necessary to comply with the UNESCO Convention.”
After the documentary aired on Wednesday, Zhelanova was less than thrilled.
“I was very upset and disappointed by the allegations made against me in the recent @ARDde documentary,” she stated in a series of tweets. “These claims are untrue and are made by 1 disgraced person who disagreed with me on the importance of fair & clean sport. I really believe in the fight against doping and dopers and am doing everything I can to create change and restore trust. Reforms are under way but our system won’t be perfect immediately – cultural change takes time.”
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.