The Kazakhstan National Biathlon Team is under investigation by Austrian police for possible doping violations, and now have claimed that the police are violating their human rights.
Federal investigators showed up at the Kazakh’s hotel outside of Hochfilzen, where the team is competing at World Championships, on the evening of February 8. Team members and staff were questioned and some of their belongings, including medical supplies, cell phones, and computers, were confiscated as part of the investigation.
The raid was spurred by an observation a month earlier of the Kazakh team van disposing of a cardboard box in a dumpster outside of a gas station. Medical supplies which suggested the use of prohibited methods were in the box, as well as team accreditations and some notes about the team, according to the police.
After the team was questioned last week, the Austrian Anti-Doping Agency immediately collected samples from the whole team for drug testing.
Those tests have now come back negative for a range of prohibited substances including erythropoietin and human growth hormone.
“Therefore, the IBU is not considering any disciplinary actions against any athlete at this point in time,” the International Biathlon Union (IBU) stated in a press release on Wednesday. “Since the investigations of the Criminal Intelligence Service Austria are still ongoing with regard to the evaluation of material found, the IBU reserves the right for any further disciplinary action based on any possible findings by the Austrian State Attorney at a later time.”
In a press conference after the announcement was made, the Kazakh team claimed to be vindicated by the test results.
“The Kazakhstan National Biathlon Federation, in cooperation with the Kazakhstan National Olympic Committee, has confirmed that the ten Kazakhstan biathlon athletes were detained by the Federal Criminal Police of Austria on the 8th of February, and that all were subsequently released without charges,” said Andrey Kryukov, a Vice President of the National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Kazakhstan. “Furthermore, all the athletes were then tested in compliance with the WADA anti-doping procedures…. and all Kazakhstani athletes returned a negative test. This outcome comes as absolutely no surprise… the protection of clean athletes and the fight against doping in all forms remains a priority for all anti-doping stakeholders in Kazakhstan.”
However, in the discarded cardboard box were allegedly materials relating to “infusions”. According to the current World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List, the following are prohibited:
- The Administration or reintroduction of any quantity of autologous, allogenic (homologous) or heterologous blood, or red blood cell products of any origin into the circulatory system.
- Artificially enhancing the uptake, transport or delivery of oxygen.
Including, but not limited to:
Perfluorochemicals; efaproxiral (RSR13) and modified haemoglobin products, e.g. haemoglobin-based blood substitutes and microencapsulated haemoglobin products, excluding supplemental oxygen by inhalation.
- Any form of intravascular manipulation of the blood or blood components by physical or chemical means.
Blood transfusions or infusions, which are prohibited methods, would not be detected using current analytical testing. This was not addressed in the press conference.
The team did, however, claim that their rights had been violated by the search and questioning.
“While we completely support the right of the Austrian authorities and the International Biathlon Union to rigorously pursue all anti-doping detection procedures, this has been conducted based on international recognized standards of fair treatment, and the presumption of innocence,” Kryukov said. “Such procedures are clearly outlined in the WADA Code of Conduct. Therefore, it is with regret that [we] believe such procedures have been ignored in this investigation, and that the Kazakhstani athletes have had their fundamental rights abused.”
Galina Vishnevskaya, the athlete representative for the Kazakhstan team, said that the investigation had begun around 8 p.m. on February 8th, and some athletes had been detained for questioning until 5 a.m. Furthermore, she complained that because their phones and laptops were taken as part of the search, they could not contact anyone “for help”. The investigation has prevented athletes from communicating with their families in the following week, she continued, and they had not been told when their possessions would be returned.
She additionally alleged that her coach, who has heart problems, had been treated “roughly”.
While the WADA International Standard for Testing and Investigations stipulates that athletes must be treated fairly, it is not clear what the Kazakhs’ specific allegation is regarding which provisions are violated.
The relevant sections of the International Standard are as follows:
“The Anti- Doping Organization shall ensure that investigations are conducted fairly, objectively and impartially at all times. The conduct of investigations, the evaluation of information and evidence identified in the course of that investigation, and the outcome of the investigation, shall be fully documented… The Anti-Doping Organization should make use of all investigative resources reasonably available to it to conduct its investigation. This may include obtaining information and assistance from law enforcement and other relevant authorities, including other regulators.”
Additionally, doping is a criminal offense in Austria — unlike many other countries — thus is is not only the guidelines of general anti-doping procedures which must be followed.
“The investigators are currently assessing whether Austrian federal anti-doping laws have been violated, and whether this is a case of sport fraud [Sportsbetrug] as defined in the Austrian Criminal Code,” the Austrian police wrote in a statement on February 8. “Austrian Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Sobotka, thanked the 30 police officers for their hard work, and the NADA Austria and the IBU for their positive collaboration: ‘The Austrian police will be going to great lengths to clarify the issue of criminal liability.'”
Furthermore, the seizure of athletes’ phones and laptops appears to be related to this provision of WADA’s International Standard:
“Investigations should not be conducted with a closed mind, pursuing only one outcome (e.g., institution of anti-doping rule violation proceedings against an Athlete or other Person). Rather, the investigator(s) should be open to and should consider all possible outcomes at each key stage of the investigation, and should seek to gather not only any available evidence indicating that there is a case to answer but also any available evidence indicating that there is no case to answer.”
The full investigation of materials collected from the raid is slated to take several weeks.
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.