Doping in Russia

Doping in Russian sports is a significant issue. Media attention began growing in December 2014 when German broadcaster ARD reported on state-sponsored doping in Russia, comparing it to doping in East Germany. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) published a report in November 2015 which was highly critical of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) and the All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF).[1][2] In November 2015, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) suspended Russia indefinitely from world track and field events due to widespread doping.

Following allegations by a Russian former lab director about the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, WADA commissioned an independent investigation led by Richard McLaren. McLaren's investigation found corroborating evidence, concluding in a report published in July 2016 that the Ministry of Sport and the Federal Security Service (FSB) had operated a "state-directed failsafe system" using a "disappearing positive [test] methodology" (DPM) from "at least late 2011 to August 2015".[3] In response to these findings, WADA announced that RUSADA should be regarded as non-compliant with respect to the World Anti-Doping Code and recommended that Russia be banned from competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics.[4] The International Olympic Commission (IOC) rejected that recommendation, stating that the IOC and each sport's international federation would make decisions on each athlete's individual basis.[5][6] On 4 August 2016, one day prior to the opening ceremony, 270 athletes were cleared for competition, while 167 were removed because of doping.[7] In contrast to the IOC, the International Paralympic Committee voted unanimously to ban the entire Russian team from the 2016 Summer Paralympics, having found evidence that the DPM was also in operation at the 2014 Winter Paralympics.[8]

Background: Soviet era

According to British journalist Andrew Jennings, a KGB colonel stated that the agency's officers had posed as anti-doping authorities from the International Olympic Committee to undermine doping tests and that Soviet athletes were "rescued with [these] tremendous efforts".[9] On the topic of the 1980 Summer Olympics, a 1989 Australian study said "There is hardly a medal winner at the Moscow Games, certainly not a gold medal winner, who is not on one sort of drug or another: usually several kinds. The Moscow Games might as well have been called the Chemists' Games."[9]

Documents obtained in 2016 revealed the Soviet Union's plans for a state-wide doping system in track and field in preparation for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Dated prior to the country's decision to boycott the Games, the document detailed the existing steroids operations of the program, along with suggestions for further enhancements.[10] The communication, directed to the Soviet Union's head of track and field, was prepared by Dr. Sergei Portugalov of the Institute for Physical Culture. Portugalov was also one of the main figures involved in the implementation of the Russian doping program prior to the 2016 Summer Olympics.[10]

Doping issues from 2001 to 2009

In 2008, seven Russian track and field athletes were suspended ahead of the Summer Olympics in Beijing for manipulating their urine samples. The president of the International Biathlon Union, Anders Besseberg, said, "We are facing systematic doping on a large scale in one of the strongest teams of the world."[11]

Reviewing 7289 blood samples from 2737 athletes from 2001 to 2009, a report found that the number of suspicious samples from "Country A" notably exceeded other countries.[12] One of the authors said that Country A was Russia.[11]

In October 2009, IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss wrote to Valentin Balakhnichev that blood samples from Russian athletes "recorded some of the highest values ever seen since the IAAF started testing" and that tests from the 2009 World Championships "strongly suggest a systematic abuse of blood doping or EPO-related products."[13]

Allegations of state-sponsored doping and 2014 ARD documentary

In 2010, an employee at the Russian Anti-Doping Agency RUSADA, Vitaly Stepanov, began sending information to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) alleging that RUSADA was enabling systemic doping in athletics.[14][15] He said that he sent 200 emails and 50 letters over three years.[16] In December 2012, Darya Pishchalnikova sent an email to WADA containing details on an alleged state-run doping program in Russia. According to The New York Times, the email reached three top WADA officials but the agency decided not to open an inquiry and instead sent her email to Russian sports officials.[11] British journalist Nick Harris said that he contacted the International Olympic Committee with allegations about Grigory Rodchenkov's laboratory in Moscow in early July 2013.[17]

According to Stepanov, "Even at WADA there were people who didn't want this story out" but he said that a person at the organisation connected him with the German broadcaster ARD.[14] WADA's chief investigator Jack Robertson believed that the organisation was reluctant to take action and that media attention was necessary, so he obtained David Howman's permission to contact a journalist.[18] The journalist, Hajo Seppelt, had previously reported on doping in East Germany and other countries. In December 2014, ARD aired Seppelt's documentary – Geheimsache Doping: Wie Russland seine Sieger macht (The Doping Secret: How Russia Creates its Champions). The documentary alleged Russian state involvement in systematic doping, which it described as "East German-style".[19] It includes statements by Stepanov and his wife, Yuliya Stepanova (née Rusanova), alleging that Russian athletics officials supplied banned substances in exchange for 5% of an athlete's earnings and falsified tests together with doping control officers.[20][21] Russian long-distance runner Liliya Shobukhova allegedly paid 450,000 euros to cover up her positive doping result.[20] The allegations included participation of Dr. Sergei Portugalov who has been accused of being involved in organization of state sponsored doping going back to early 1980s.[10]



In January 2015, then-ARAF President Valentin Balakhnichev resigned as treasurer of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).[22]

In response to the ARD documentary, WADA commissioned an investigation, the report of which was published on 9 November 2015.[23] The 323-page document, described as "damning" by The Guardian,[2] reported widespread doping and large-scale cover-ups by the Russian authorities. It stated that the Federal Security Service (FSB) had regularly visited and questioned laboratory staff and instructed some of them not to cooperate with the WADA investigation.[23]:196–197 Two staff members said that they suspected that the offices and telephones were bugged.[23]:196–197 The report recommended that ARAF be declared non-compliant with respect to the World Anti-Doping Code and that the International Olympic Committee not accept any 2016 Summer Olympics entries from ARAF until compliance was reached.[23][24]

A day later, WADA suspended the Moscow Anti-doping Center, prohibiting the laboratory "from carrying out any WADA-related anti-doping activities including all analyses of urine and blood samples."[25] On 13 November, the IAAF council voted 22–1 in favour of prohibiting Russia from world track and field events with immediate effect.[26] Under other penalties against the ARAF, Russia has been also prohibited from hosting the 2016 World Race Walking Team Championships (Cheboksary) and 2016 World Junior Championships (Kazan), and ARAF must entrust doping cases to Court of Arbitration for Sport.[26] AFAR accepted the indefinite IAAF suspension and did not request a hearing.[27] ARAF's efforts towards regaining full IAAF membership will be monitored by a five-person IAAF team.[28] On 18 November 2015 WADA suspended RUSADA, meaning that Russia does not have a functioning NADO for any sport.[29][30]

In November 2015, France began a criminal investigation into former IAAF president Lamine Diack, alleging that in 2011 he accepted a 1 million euro bribe from the All-Russia Athletic Federation to cover up positive doping results of at least six Russian athletes.[31]

January to May 2016

In January 2016, the IAAF gave lifetime bans to the former head of the Russian athletics federation, Valentin Balakhnichev, and a top Russian coach, Aleksey Melnikov.[32]

In mid-January, WADA released the second report by its independent commission.[33]

Two former directors of RUSADA, Vyacheslav Sinyev and Nikita Kamaev, died in February 2016.[34] The Sunday Times reported that Kamaev had approached the newspaper shortly before his death planning to publish a book on "the true story of sport pharmacology and doping in Russia since 1987".[35] Grigory Rodchenkov, a lab director described by WADA as "the heart of Russian doping", was fired by Russian authorities and fled in fear of his safety to the United States, where he shared information.[36]

In March 2016, ARD broadcast the documentary "Russia's Red Herrings", alleging that athletes were alerted about testing plans and offered banned substances by individuals at RUSADA and ARAF.[37] According to a May 2016 report in The New York Times, the director of a prominent laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, said that doping experts collaborated with Russia's intelligence service on a state-sponsored doping programme in which urine samples were switched through a hole in the laboratory's wall.[38] He said that at least fifteen medalists at the 2014 Winter Olympics were involved.[38] On 19 May, WADA appointed Richard McLaren to lead an investigation into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.[39]

June 2016

An ARD documentary in June 2016 implicated Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko in covering up doping by a football player at FK Krasnodar.[40] In the same month, IAAF deputy general secretary Nick Davies was provisionally suspended over allegations that he took money to delay naming Russian athletes.[41] According to the BBC, emails from July 2013 showed that Davies had discussed how to delay or soften an announcement on Russians who had tested positive.[42]

In June 2016, WADA released a report stating that the work of its Doping Control Officers (DCO) had been limited by a "significant amount of unavailable athlete reports and missed tests", insufficient or incorrect athlete location information, and little information about the location or date of competitions. Some athletes named military cities requiring special permission to enter as their location and some national championships, including Olympic qualifiers, were held in cities with restricted access due to civil conflicts, preventing testing of the competitors.[43] WADA also reported intimidation of DCOs by armed Federal Security Service (FSB) agents; "significant delays" before being allowed to enter venues; consistent monitoring by security staff; delays in receiving athlete lists; and opening of sample packages by Russian customs.[43] 90% of Russian athletes did not respond or "emphatically" refused when WADA requested to interview them as part of its investigation.[44] Director general David Howman stated, "It was the very right time for those who considered themselves clean [to approach WADA]. They had nine months, plenty of time, and none came forward."[44]

On 17 June, the IAAF Council held an extraordinary meeting "principally to give the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) a further opportunity to satisfy the Reinstatement Conditions for IAAF Membership."[45] A task force chaired by Rune Andersen recommended against reinstating Russia after reporting that criteria had not been met and that there were "detailed allegations, which are already partly substantiated, that the Russian authorities, far from supporting the anti-doping effort, have in fact orchestrated systematic doping and the covering up of adverse analytical findings."[45] The IAAF voted unanimously to uphold its ban.[46]

A week later, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) decided to give a one-year ban to Russia, along with two other countries; on 3 August 2016 the IOC ratified the decision, and Russia's weightlifting team missed the 2016 Summer Olympics.[47][48]

July 2016

On 18 July 2016, Richard McLaren, a Canadian attorney retained by WADA to investigate Rodchenkov's allegations, published a 97-page report covering significant state-sponsored doping in Russia.[3][49] Although limited by a 57-day time frame, the investigation found corroborating evidence after conducting witness interviews, reviewing thousands of documents, cyber analysis of hard drives, forensic analysis of urine sample collection bottles, and laboratory analysis of individual athlete samples, with "more evidence becoming available by the day."[3]:5 The report concluded that it was shown "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Russia's Ministry of Sport, the Centre of Sports Preparation of the National Teams of Russia, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the WADA-accredited laboratory in Moscow had "operated for the protection of doped Russian athletes" within a "state-directed failsafe system" using "the disappearing positive [test] methodology."[3][49][50][51] McLaren stated that urine samples were opened in Sochi in order to swap them "without any evidence to the untrained eye".[3] The official producer of BEREG-KIT security bottles used for anti-doping tests, Berlinger Group, stated, "We have no knowledge of the specifications, the methods or the procedures involved in the tests and experiments conducted by the McLaren Commission."[52]

According to the McLaren report, the Disappearing Positive Methodology operated from "at least late 2011 to August 2015."[3]:35 It was used on 643 positive samples, a number that the authors consider "only a minimum" due to limited access to Russian records.[3]:39 The system covered up positive results in a wide range of sports:[3]:41

  • Athletics (139)
  • Weightlifting (117)
  • Non-Olympic sports (37)
  • Paralympic sport (35)
  • Wrestling (28)
  • Canoe (27)
  • Cycling (26)
  • Skating (24)
  • Swimming (18)
  • Ice hockey (14)
  • Skiing (13)
  • Football (11)
  • Rowing (11)
  • Biathlon (10)
  • Bobsleigh (8)
  • Judo (8)
  • Volleyball (8)
  • Boxing (7)
  • Handball (7)
  • Taekwondo (6)
  • Fencing (4)
  • Triathlon (4)
  • Modern pentathlon (3)
  • Shooting (3)
  • Beach volleyball (2)
  • Curling (2)
  • Basketball (1)
  • Sailing (1)
  • Snowboard (1)
  • Table tennis (1)
  • Water polo (1)

In response to these findings, WADA announced that RUSADA should be regarded as non-compliant with respect to the World Anti-Doping Code and recommended that Russian be banned from competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics.[4] The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to decline 2016 Summer Olympics accreditation requests by Russian sports ministry officials and any individuals implicated in the report, to begin re-analysis and a full inquiry into Russian competitors at the Sochi Olympics, and to ask sports federations to seek alternative hosts for major events that had been assigned to Russia.[53][54]

On July 21, 2016, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) turned down an appeal by the Russian Olympic Committee and 68 Russian athletes.[55] The following day, the International Paralympic Committee began suspension proceedings against the National Paralympic Committee of Russia.[56] On 24 July, the IOC rejected WADA's recommendation to ban Russia from the Summer Olympics and announced that a decision would be made by each sport federation. With each positive decision having to be approved by a CAS arbitrator.[57] WADA's president Craig Reedie said, "WADA is disappointed that the IOC did not heed WADA's Executive Committee recommendations that were based on the outcomes of the McLaren Investigation and would have ensured a straight-forward, strong and harmonized approach."[58] On the IOC's decision to exclude Stepanova, WADA director general Olivier Niggli stated that his agency was "very concerned by the message that this sends whistleblowers for the future."[58]

On 30 July 2016 the IOC announced that a final decision on each athlete would be made by a newly established IOC panel consisting of Ugur Erdener, Claudia Bokel, and Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr.[59]

August to September 2016

Originally Russia submitted a list of 389 athletes for the Rio Olympics competition. On 7 August 2016, the IOC cleared 278 athletes, while 111 were removed because of the scandal (including 67 athletes removed by IAAF before the IOC's decision).[60][61]

Having sent samples for forensic analysis, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) found evidence that the Disappearing Positive Methodology was in operation at the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi.[8] On 7 August 2016, the IPC's Governing Board voted unanimously to ban the entire Russian team from the 2016 Summer Paralympics, citing the Russian Paralympic Committee's (RPC) inability to enforce the IPC's Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code, which is "a fundamental constitutional requirement".[8] IPC President Sir Philip Craven described the Russian anti-doping system as "entirely compromised" and 18 July 2016 as "one of the darkest days in the history of all sport", and stated that the Russian government had "catastrophically failed its Para athletes".[62] IPC Athletes' Council Chairperson Todd Nicholson said that Russia had used athletes as "pawns" in order to "show global prowess".[63] On 23 August 2016, the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed Russia's appeal, stating that the IPC's decision was "made in accordance with the IPC Rules and was proportionate in the circumstances" and that Russia "did not file any evidence contradicting the facts on which the IPC decision was based."[64] The Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland rejected another appeal by Russia, saying that the RPC "needed to demonstrate it had fulfilled its obligations in upholding... anti-doping protocols, and that its interests in an immediate lifting of its suspension outweigh the International Paralympics Committee's interests in fighting doping and in the integrity of athletics. It did not succeed in this in any way."[65] Rejecting an appeal by ten athletes, a German court stated that the IPC had no obligation to allow them to compete and that the committee had "comprehensibly justified" its decision.[66]

In an interview with NRK, WADA's director general Olivier Niggli said that "Russia is threatening us and our informers", mentioning daily hacking attempts and bugging of houses. He said that the agency had "a pretty good suspicion" that the hackers were Russian and that Western governments were already familiar with them.[67] He stated, "I think this will cease if they stop looking at us as an enemy, and instead accept that there is a problem that we must work together to solve. But for the moment they are sending out completely the wrong signals."[67]

Media coverage

Russian doping has been featured in several documentaries broadcast in Germany, France, and the United States:



Some athletes from other countries have criticised WADA, alleging that the agency has been reluctant to investigate Russia despite multiple tips over several years.[11] WADA officials stated that the agency lacked the authority to carry out its own investigations until 2015.[16][72] Arne Ljungqvist, WADA's former vice chairman, commented that "WADA always had an excuse as to why they wouldn't move forward. They expected Russia to clean up themselves."[11] In June 2016, The Guardian reported that a letter approved by over twenty athletes' groups from multiple sports and countries as well as the chairs of the IOC's and WADA's athletes committees, Claudia Bokel and Beckie Scott, had been sent to IOC president Thomas Bach and WADA head Craig Reedie; the letter criticised the organisations for inaction and silence until the media became involved and said that athlete confidence in the anti-doping system had been "shattered".[73]

On 18 July 2016, WADA's Athlete Committee stated, "Although we have known of the allegations, to read the report today, to see the weight of the evidence, and to see the scale of doping and deception is astounding."[74] The athlete committee,[74] the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organizations,[75] and the leaders of anti-doping agencies in Austria, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States called for Russia to be banned from the 2016 Olympics in Rio.[76] After Bach delayed a decision on whether to ban the entire Russian team, IOC member Dick Pound said, "the IOC is for some reason very reluctant to think about a total exclusion of the Russian team. But we've got institutionalized, government-organised cheating on a wide scale across a whole range of sports in a country. You've got to keep from turning [zero tolerance] into: ‘We have zero tolerance except for Russia.'"[77] Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star said, "If the threshold Russia established is not high enough to merit a total ban from an Olympic Games, it's a remarkable precedent to set."[78] Former IOC vice president, Kevan Gosper of Australia, said, "we have to be very careful [about making] the wrong move with an important country like Russia", to which Richard Hind of The Daily Telegraph (Australia) responded, "And there is the IOC in a nut shell. There are nations, and there are 'important nations'. Not everyone pees in the same specimen jar."[79]

The IOC's decision on 24 July 2016 was criticised by some athletes[80][81][82][83][84] and writers.[85][86][87][88][89][90] It received support from the European Olympic Committees, which said that Russia is "a valued member".[80] Cam Cole of Canada's National Post said that the IOC had "caved, as it always does, defaulting to whatever compromise it could safely adopt without offending a superpower."[89] Expressing disappointment, a member of the IOC Athletes' Commission, Hayley Wickenheiser, wrote, "I ask myself if we were not dealing with Russia would this decision to ban a nation [have] been an easier one? I fear the answer is yes."[82] Writing for Deutsche Welle in Germany, Olivia Gerstenberger said that Bach had "flunked" his first serious test, adding, "With this decision, the credibility of the organization is shattered once more, while that of state-sponsored doping actually receives a minor boost."[91] Bild (Germany) described Bach as "Putin's poodle".[87] Paul Hayward, chief sports writer of The Daily Telegraph (UK), remarked, "The white flag of capitulation flies over the International Olympic Committee. Russia's deep political reach should have told us this would happen."[85]

Leaders of thirteen national anti-doping organisations wrote that the IOC had "violated the athletes' fundamental rights to participate in Games that meet the stringent requirements of the World Anti-Doping Code" and "[demonstated that] it lacks the independence required to keep commercial and political interests from influencing the tough decisions necessary to protect clean sport."[92] WADA's former chief investigation, Jack Robertson, said that the "The anti-doping code is now just suggestions to follow or not" and that "WADA handed the IOC that excuse [not enough time before the Olympics] by sitting on the allegations for close to a year."[18] McLaren was dissatisfied with the IOC's handling of his report, saying "It was about state-sponsored doping and the mis-recording of doping results and they turned the focus into individual athletes and whether they should compete. [...] it was a complete turning upside down of what was in the report and passing over responsibility to all the different international federations."[93]

In Russia

Some Russians have called the allegations an anti-Russian plot while others consider that Russia was "just doing what the rest of the world does".[94][95][96] Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia had "never supported any violations in sport, we have never supported it at the state level, and we will never support this"[97] and that the allegations were part of an "anti-Russia policy" by the West.[98] Aleksei Pushkov, chairman of Russia's parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said that the IAAF's decision to uphold its ban was "an act of political revenge against Russia for its independent foreign policy."[98] A member of Russia's parliament, Vadim Dengin, stated, "The entire doping scandal is a pure falsification, invented to discredit and humiliate Russia."[99] After the Court of Arbitration for Sport turned down an appeal by Russian athletes, pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva wrote, "Let all those pseudo clean foreign athletes breathe a sigh of relief and win their pseudo gold medals in our absence. They always did fear strength."[100] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the ruling a "crime against sport".[101] A poll by the Levada Center found that 14% of Russians believed that the country's athletes had doped in Sochi, 71% did not believe WADA's reports, and 15% decided not to answer.[102]

A spokesman for Putin called Stepanova a "Judas".[103] The Russian media have also criticised the Stepanovs. Yuliya Stepanova said, "All the news stories call me a traitor and not just traitor but a traitor to the Motherland."[14] Vitaly Stepanov said, "I wasn't trying to expose Russia, I was trying to expose corrupt sports officials that are completely messing up competitions not just inside the country but globally."[15] Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that the Russian media portrayed the German documentaries as "part of a Western conspiracy with the aim of weakening the great nation that Vladimir Putin lifted from its knees."[104] Hajo Seppelt had the "impression that he and the Stepanovs were being styled as enemies of the state".[104]

Dick Pound described Russia's response as "a bit like when you get stopped for speeding on the freeway by the police and you say 'why me? everyone else was doing it'."[105] He stated that if Russia's authorities had "responded to their issues they could easily have enough time to sort everything out in time for Rio. But instead they played the role of victims, claiming there was a plot against them for too long."[105] Leonid Bershidsky, a Russian writer for Bloomberg View, wrote that Russia's "officials need to understand that "whataboutism" doesn't avert investigations".[95] The Moscow correspondent of Deutsche Welle, Juri Rescheto, wrote that the response he saw in Russia "shows that the country is living in a parallel universe" and seeks to blame others.[106] Writing for The New York Times, Andrew E. Kramer said that Russia responded to the IAAF's decision against reinstatement with "victimhood" reflecting a "culture of grievances that revolves around perceived slights and anti-Russian conspiracies taking place in the outside world, particularly in Western countries".[98] The newspaper's editorial board also saw a "narrative of victimization" in Russia, and wrote that it resembled how the Soviet Union would respond to a punishment – by saying that it was "politically motivated, always a provocation, never justified. [Even] though the Cold War is long over, President Vladimir Putin remains stuck in the same, snarling defensive crouch in his responses to any accusations of Russian foul play".[107] Andrew Osborn of Reuters wrote that the Russian government had "deftly deflected the blame by passing it off as a Western Cold War-style plot to sabotage Russia's international comeback."[108] In response to Russia's opinion that the allegations were "politically motivated", WADA's former chief investigator, Jack Robertson, said that he saw politics "when Craig Reedie tried to intervene by writing emails to the Russian ministry to console them."[18]

Match TV said that Americans had orchestrated the doping scandal and modern pentathlon champion Aleksander Lesun called it an unfair "attack" because "Doping is in all countries and there are violators everywhere."[109] Following the IOC's announcement on 24 July 2016, Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko said it was "a just and fair decision and we hope every federation will take the same kind of decision. Doping is a worldwide evil, not only of Russia."[110] The Russian media's reaction was "nearly euphoric at points."[109] A reporter from Russian state-owned television told IOC President Thomas Bach that "It looked like you personally were helping us" and asked whether the doping investigation was a "political attack" on Russian athletes.[111]

Other controversies

See also: Meldonium

Some experts point out that McLaren did not examine the possibility intentional scratching prior to the empty containers to store urine and blood samples. Attackers were aimed at stopping of Russian athletes at Olympic Games.


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