The 12 Most Interesting / Important Things From The WADA Report on Russian Doping

November 10, 2015

Yesterday, the Independent Commission (IC) created by WADA to investigate doping in Russia released a 323-page report (you can view the report in its entirety here) of its findings. We summarized the main findings yesterday — including the IC’s recommendation that Russia be banned from international track and field competition — in a separate article here. Now that a day has passed, we’ve had a chance to read the entire report and digest what it all means. We’ve analyzed the 12 most interesting and important takeaways from the document below, so you can stay informed without spending hours wading through the full report.

Before we dig into the report though, we’d first like to share an incredible interview we came across from Channel 4 in the UK. In it, interviewer Jon Snow fearlessly attacks IAAF president Sebastian Coe for not knowing more about the coverup allegations concerning his predecessor Lamine Diack. A big thumbs up to Mr. Snow for refusing to back down and ask the tough questions.

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1) The doping coverup in Russia went all the way up to the FSB – Russia’s new name for the KGB – as FSB agents were in the doping labs during the Sochi Olympics

Independent Commission investigators interviewed a number of employees at the one WADA-accredited lab in Russia – the Moscow Lab. These employees complained of “external interferences” in their work and the report says there were “state actors inside the laboratory” as the report states:

The IC sources within the laboratory identified the FSB agent as Evgeniy Blotkin/Blokhin. Sources reported that Moscow laboratory Director [Grigory] Rodchenkov was required to meet with Evgeniy Blotkin weekly to update him on the “mood of WADA.”

It gets even worse. A Moscow lab worker says members of the FSB were even in the lab at the Sochi Olympics:

“[L]ast time in Sochi, we had some guys pretending to be engineers in the lab but actually they were from the federal security service, let’s call it the new KGB; FSB.”

Lab workers also said they would receive instructions to manipulate certain samples “directly from the (Russian) Ministry of Sport.”

Lab workers even wondered if their phones and offices were bugged:

“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.”

The IC also found evidence that the Russians had a second, secret drug testing lab which they used to determine if athletes would test positive before their official tests would go the WADA accredited lab:

“The IC discovered that the second laboratory is known as the “Laboratory of the Moscow Committee of Sport for Identification for Prohibited Substances in Athlete Samples.” This second laboratory is reportedly controlled by the “Moscow Government” and is located in an industrial area about 10km from the city center on the outskirts of Moscow.”

On Tuesday, the Kremlin has responded to these allegations. In a Wall Street Journal article by Paul Sonne, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Pesko said, “If particular allegations are going to be aired, then they should be backed by particular evidence, So long as they haven’t presented the particular evidence, it’s hard to accept the particular allegations. They remain unfounded.”

2)  After the ARD documentary aired in December 2014, many Russian athletes refused to cooperate with the Independent Commission and continued to dope and compete and the Russian lab did a huge coverup by destroying 1,417 samples.

We’ll never know the full extent of the doping in Russia as the WADA lab in Moscow has admitted to destroying a ton of samples:

“The WADA audit team arrived at the Moscow laboratory on 17 December 2014 and upon arrival were notified that only 3,000 samples were currently in storage at the laboratory, despite its capacity for the storage of 8,000-10,000 samples. Dir. Rodchenkov (the head of the Moscow WADA lab) advised the WADA audit team, that he (Rodchenkov) decided to “do some clean up to prepare for WADA’s visit.” The WADA audit team determined that three days prior to the audit team’s arrival, Dir. Rodchenkov had personally instructed and authorized the disposal of 1,417 samples. This was done on a Saturday morning immediately prior to the arrival in Moscow of a WADA audit team…..”

“WADA officials and IC members conducted two subsequent interviews of Dir. Rodchenkov on 26 March 2015 and 30 June 2015, where on both occasions, he admitted to intentionally destroying the 1,417 samples in order to limit the extent of WADA’s audit and to reduce any potential adverse findings from subsequent analysis by another WADA accredited laboratory.”

In terms of the athletes, the IC sought interviews with 53 Russian athletes they suspected of doping. Only 35 had email addresses in ADAMS (the database athletes use to log their location for random drug testing). Each athlete was sent three emails each (in English and Russian) and of those 35, 23 did not respond while three responded “conditionally” — they wanted to see the questions or set some other condition before agreeing to an interview. Of the remaining nine athletes, two were interviewed via Skype and one over the phone. The IC does not mention the fates of the other six but did say that during its investigation many sources refused to talk out of fear of repercussions.

The IC also writes about several instances of non-cooperation with doping control officers (DCOs) on the part of Russian athletes, coaches, doctors and administrators.

On May 22, 2015, acting on a tip from the IC, the IAAF conducted a Doping Control Mission at a Russian athletics training camp in Adler, Russia.  The Russians weren’t happy at all to get a truly unannounced and independent drug test:

“At one point during the mission, both the doctor and coach were upset, stating, “RUSADA always informed them in advance, so they would be prepared and wait for the DCO.” They further complained, “no one [DCO] came in this manner, with no advance notice.””

“During this surprise-testing mission, IDTM DCOs also observed needles in an athlete’s room and witnessed warning calls made to other athletes concerning the DCOs’ intention to test athletes.”

In June 2015, a visit to the training camp of since-suspended racewalking coach Viktor Chegin in Saransk resulted was very fruitful. Chegin’s athletes and another coach, Nikitin Sergey, attempted to avoid the DCO and Nikitin also attempted to intimidate him. Ultimately, 10 athletes submitted to testing, six of which tested positive for EPO.

Many of the athletes who were recorded discussing doping as part of the ARD report continued to dope and compete in 2015, well knowing the IC was investigating them. Several of the athletes the IC has recommended be banned earned medals at significant races in 2015, including Ekaterina Poistogova (800m silver at the European Indoor Championships), Kristina Ugarova (1500m bronze at the World University Games) and Anastasiya Bazdyreva (Russian 800m champion).

3) The report states that two 2012 Olympic gold medallists – Turkey’s Aslı Çakır Alptekin (w1500) and Russia’s Sergey Kirdyapkin (m50k) should never have been in the Olympics due to abnormalities in their biological passports. Women’s 800 champ Mariya Savinova also is a doper who it could be argued shouldn’t have been there as well. 

The report was critical of the IAAF for not banning Aslı Çakır Alptekin of Turkey before the 2012 Olympics. It says that “eight of the nine samples that were considered abnormal as part of Ms. Cakir Alptekin’s ABP (Athlete Biological Passport) were taken prior to the 2012 Olympic Games.” The IC concluded, “The IC finds that the IAAF ought to have expedited the matter to an ABP expert panel prior to the pending 2012 London Games.”

In the case of Kirdyapkin, the IAAF notified the Russians about his biological passport abnormalities in November 2011 but they did nothing until after the Olympics.

As for Savinova, the report says given the secret recordings by ARD where she talks in great detail about doping it’s “highly likely” she was a doper and they’ve recommended she receive a lifetime ban from the sport. However, the verdict on whether she should have been prevented from competing in 2012 is less clear. The IC says that only two of three experts viewed her biological passport as indicating she was “likely doping.” It’s clear that the anti-doping authorities are worried about potential lawsuits so we can understand why she wasn’t banned before the Olympics.

This story is getting major traction as it's on the front page of the Wall Street Journal

This story is getting major traction as it’s on the front page of the Wall Street Journal

4) Let’s not forget about those 150+ suspicious doping samples from the second ARD report and initial Sunday Times article.

There was a lot of debate and back and forth after the second ARD report aired in August and accused the IAAF of not doing its job with regard to following up on suspicious blood samples taken as part of the athlete biological passport system. The report claimed that, “An IAAF database of blood values shows that a third of medals won at Olympics and Worlds between 2001 and 20102 came from athletes who have recorded ‘suspicious’ blood values.” The IAAF staunchly defended itself and attacked ARD, The Sunday Times and the two Australian scientists, Michael Ashenden and Robin Parisotto, who were part of the report. At the time, Lamine Diack called the accusations a “joke” and Seb Coe called it a “declaration of war.”

However, Hajo Seppelt and the Aussie scientists didn’t back down. Seppelt called Coe’s statement a “cheap election maneuver”; while Ashenden defended his views in an open letter to the IAAF. Now, three months later, we’re seeing that they were right. As mentioned in point #2 above with Aslı Çakır Alptekin and Sergey Kirdyapkin, there were multiple athletes who competed at the 2012 Olympics who should have been ineligible beforehand based on their ABP. There are also (allegedly) instances when an athlete should have been banned, but initially went free after paying a bribe to the IAAF (i.e. Lilya Shobhukova and Diack).

And after examining all the accusations in the initial ARD report, the IC went back and looked at the ABPs for the athletes who were voice recorded discussing doping to see if there was anything suspicious. Surprise, surprise, they found something. Three of the investigated athletes, Kristina Ugarova (1500 runner, 2015 World University Games bronze medalist), Tatyana Myazina (800 runner) and Mariya Savinova (800m Olympic champ) had indications of doping in their ABP. We already mentioned Savinova’s case above (see point #2), but for Ugarova the IC said her ABP indicated a “strong suspicion of doping” in competition and that she “had an extremely high off- score, high HGB, and low Ret % … all of which are outside the 99% limits.” For Myazina, the IC simply stated “laboratory analysis noted indications of steroid use.”

Clearly, Michael Ashenden and the others were being fair when they said the IAAF wasn’t being aggressive enough going after athletes with suspicious blood profiles. The question now remains, who else should have been nabbed for doping but got away because of what the IC called, the IAAF’s “laissez-faire” approach to anti-doping? How many more of those 150+ suspicious samples were actually dopers who the IAAF didn’t bother to prosecute? We know for a fact they weren’t all Russians.

WADA head Craig Reedie said that these allegations from The Sunday Times and second ARD report would be added to the IC’s mandate and that it might therefore deliver its final report later than originally planned. However, the IC noted in this report that because the allegations came late in the process (August), they will be addressed in a separate subsequent report.

5) The Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) works…to a point

The IC wrote, “On 8 February 2013, [Yuliya] Stepanova secretly recorded [Aleksey] Melnikov (Senior Coach and Head Coach for Russia for endurance) complaining about the ABP and contemplating how many athletes would be caught as a result of ABP testing. Melnikov stated they only started to understand [how to circumvent] the problem in the spring of 2012.”

Obviously it’s a good thing if dirty coaches are complaining about the ABP. But after a few years of study (the ABP was introduced in 2009), Melnikov was brainstorming with doctor Sergey Portugalov about how to beat it — and apparently they’d had some success.

“Not all drugs will affect testosterone level,” Melnikov told Stepanova in a secretly-recorded November 2014 meeting. ”Sergey Nikolaevich [Portugalov] will tell you…they all might contain (doping)… but some affect and some do not (testosterone level)…. so we will choose the ones that do not affect and we will do secret testing. We did it last year already, especially prior to the main competition.”

The main competition implicitly being the 2013 World Championships, hosted by Russia.

6) Confirming what we already know: athletes can work the system to avoid detection by timing their doping regime.

Two athletes the IC investigated and later recommended be banned were Russian middle distance runners Anastasiya Bazdyreva and Ekaterina Poistogova. These two were among those voice-recorded discussing their doping protocols. Specifically, they talked about how they could avoid detection by monitoring when and how they took each drug. When the IC reviewed their ABP looking for signs of cheating, they returned normal readings. However, when “read in conjunction with [their] statements and countermeasure practices” their blood profiles were indicative of athletes “[using] washout periods to circumvent in-competition testing.” There you have it; two athletes who’ve doped for years, but might never have been caught through conventional testing.

7) A positive test cover-up didn’t seem to be that expensive…most of the time.

“[A confidential informant] advised that athletes paid 20,000 roubles to ARAF and 30,000 roubles to Rodchenkov to conceal positive drug tests.”

20,000 rubles is just $209.30 and 30,000 is $463.96. The 30,000 figure is also the one cited by the Yuliya Stepanova in the German ARD documentary.

Of course, that is just for test cover-ups. Stepanova said she had to pay 5% of her winnings to a doctor for the provisioning and counseling of her PED cocktail. And marathon star Liliya Shobukhova says she was asked to pay 450,000 Euros ($483,885) to have her doping results delayed or altered so that she could compete at the 2012 Olympics. Athletes also had the option to pay to run in “green lanes” at major events including the Russian and European Championships. By running in these lanes, they were free to “compete dirty” as they were guaranteed not to be tested, or if they were tested, “their positive samples would disappear.”

As for how the tests were actually covered up, sometimes the samples simply weren’t put into WADA’s ADAMS database at all, while others were simply declared to be negative. It’s also alleged that the positive samples could be swapped out for negative samples.

8) Not only did the All-Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF), permit its athletes to dope; in some cases, it was a requirement to be considered for the national team

Clean athletes in Russia were already at a tremendous disadvantage, as the Independent Commission noted that “[a]n athlete’s decision not to participate [in cheating] is likely to leave him or her without access to top calibre coaches and thus the opportunity to excel.” Most damning, the IC said that “there are documented cases where athletes who did not want to participate in ‘the program’ were informed they would not be considered as part of the federation’s national team for competition.”

9) The Independent Commission offers a good suggestion — WADA needs to beef up its investigative unit

The IC suggested: “In order to be able to engage in and adequately manage international investigations, WADA must hire appropriately qualified staff and allocate appropriate budgets and resources for that purpose.”

The IC wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the work of ARD and German journalist Hajo Seppelt, whom IC contributor Dick Pound thanked in his comments Monday afternoon. One of the best ways to catch cheats who beat the test is to cultivate sources and investigate. Seppelt should be applauded for his efforts, but shouldn’t WADA be the ones catching cheaters? By supporting its own investigative unit, hopefully they can do that more frequently.

10) The IC recommends banning Russian athletes from competition

Excerpt from page 311 of the WADA doping report:

“The IC expects that at least part of the response to this Report will be a predictable concern that some ‘innocent’ athletes may be excluded from participation in competitions if the recommendations in the Report are adopted by the appropriate organizations. ‘Innocent”’athletes, around the world and in Russia, are already suffering as a result of the conduct identified in this Report: they need protection. The root cause of any non-participation is not the Report, but rather the unacceptable conduct of those responsible for the situation giving rise to the IC investigation and Report. It is they who must assume the responsibility for their actions. The unacceptable conduct can easily be solved by those responsible, who must assume their responsibilities to protect the clean athletes, and thereby enable the clean athletes to participate once again.”

Yet that paragraph concludes by saying “Timely action on their part should mean that no significant competitions will be missed.” This sentence is curious. Obviously the 2016 Olympics are a significant competition. So too are the 2016 World Indoor Championships, to be held in Portland in March. Essentially, the IC is saying that if all of the dirty athletes, coaches and administrators come forward, Russia’s ban (if enforced) can end quickly. But if the report’s other details are accurate, that scenario is pure fantasy. The majority of individuals implicated have been extremely non-cooperative with the IC’s investigation and to expect them to just give themselves up is foolish.

Even if all the dirty individuals did come forward, what would be accomplished by lifting the ban before the Olympics? It’s extremely difficult to tell who is doping and who’s not, so how would we have any clue who the “last” dirty individual is? Plus, it is hard to imagine that ARAF and RUSADA could convince the world that everything is on the level in Russia within seven months after years of improprieties. The IAAF has a decision to make about whether to ban Russia. And if Russia is banned, that ban needs to mean something.

This story is getting major traction as it's on the front page of the NY Times

This story is getting major traction as it’s on the front page of the NY Times

11) On a light note, the Russians confirmed what we already knew with our gut – Morocco and Turkey are dirty as hell and the women’s 800 is particularly dirty

We found it funny that when the former head of the Russian Athletics Valentin Balakhnichev spoke to investigators he “insisted that Russia was not the only offender, indicating there were doping problems in many other countries, such as Morocco and Turkey.”

In terms of the women’s 800, the IC says the director of the Moscow WADA lab, Grigory Rodchenkov, said that 800 runners were immune from doping controls as the report says he told them, “The “Kazarin Group,” a group of elite level runners, for example, in 800m, is apparently immune from doping controls. Dir. Rodchenkov would not elaborate how they were immune.”

12) It will be fascinating to see what appears in the next report on the IAAF corruption as at one point the Russians themselves went to WADA and complained about how they were being blackmailed by the IAAF.

We found a real nugget on page 235 of the report.

“Interestingly, however, in September of 2014, the Russian Ministry of Sport requested a meeting with WADA in Lausanne to report that abnormal ABP cases were not dealt with in a timely manner and claimed that ARAF and the Russian athletes had been “blackmailed” by senior IAAF officials to allow athletes with abnormal ABPs to compete in exchange for money. No details were provided at the time, nor since, regarding the identities of the IAAF officials alleged to have been engaged in such blackmail, and no details of any monetary payments have been provided by the Russian Ministry of Sport. The IC is, on the basis of lack of evidence, unable to reach any conclusion in relation to such allegations.”

The former head of the Russian Athletics Valentin Balakhnichev initially said he’d speak to the IC about being blackmailed by the IAAF but then when he met with the IC he changed his tune and said he’d never been blackmailed.

Previous: LRC It’s Worse Than We Thought: LRC Reacts To WADA Russian Doping Report

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