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Doping

Dear WADA: The Nordic World Needs Answers

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

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.

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From page 151 of the report.

SwimVortex.com 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:

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From page 14 of the ARD transcript.

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.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Earlier this week several Finnish newspapers reported that Juha Lalluka, a key member of the 2011 Finnish World Championship team, tested positive for human growth hormone.

The shock and disappointment did not come close to rivaling the response to the positive test of Estonian legend Andrus Vererpalu last season, but Lalluka’s seemingly out-of-nowhere performances in Oslo piqued the interest of many.

There are several notable points to this unfortunate storyline. First, anti-doping efforts seem to be working – at least some cheaters are being caught. The anecdotal consensus seems to be that the sport is significantly cleaner now than it was five years ago.

At major events there is much less discussion about who is doping and who is clean. When someone does come up dirty, the reaction is generally one of surprise (though for many, not in the case of Veerpalu).

This is generally good. What is concerning, however, is that the results of Lalluka’s A-sampple was made public prior to the testing of the B-sample. That second sample has come back positive, so it is hard to feel much sympathy for the man.

But allowing the results from the first test to reach the public is a serious violation of the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

What if the B-sample came back clean, and the original positive test was an error?

Lalluka’s name and reputation would haev still been permanently tarnished. He would forever be remembered as another doping Finn, albeit one who beat the charges.

Regardless of the fact, that in this case, the B-sample did confirm the initial positive test, WADA, and national anti-doping agencies need to ensure that A-sample results are kept under wraps until the B-sample is tested. The court of public opinion is quick to judge, and when it comes to doping, outside of nationalistic fervor, the verdict is almost always guilty.

Lalluka is gearing up to fight the doping charges, but it is a losing battle. There is little precedent for an athlete with a positive A and B sample to get off without a suspension. At this point all evidence points to another sad chapter in the performance enhancing drug saga that has become all too common in elite sport.

But cheaters and lawbreakers have rights. The rules state that a B-sample must confirm the result of the A-sample. Until those findings are complete, all information associated with the case, even the existence of the case, must be kept completely private.

Accountability

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

While FasterSkier’s main purpose is to bring rabid ski fans updates on the latest and greatest in uniform styles, we do touch on some other issues in the Nordic ski world.

And while it may not be quite as sexy (both literally and figuratively), Nat Herz recently wrote two articles on the issue of repayment of convicted dopers’ winnings.

There is a little-publicized International Ski Federation (FIS) rule stating that dopers must return money collected in races after their positive drug test. Nat checked in with both Finland’s Sami Jauhojaervi and the Czech Republic’s Lukas Bauer, both of whom should have received more than $2,000 U.S. after Russian Evgeni Dementiev tested positive at the 2009 Tour de Ski.

Both men told Nat that they had not received any additional money, with Bauer saying, “I was never contacted by FIS or Tour de Ski organizers about this problem…We will see later, but I don’t expect any miracles.”

While it is up to national governing bodies to re-distribute the funds once they’ve been reclaimed, it is up to FIS to make sure that this actually happens.

FIS initially communicated that the money should have been redistributed, and that they would check the accounting. After Bauer confirmed that he hadn’t received money as well, Nat pushed FIS further, culminating in a somewhat tense phone conversation with FIS General Secretary Sarah Lewis.

Later that day Nat received an email from FIS Anti-Doping Administrator Sarah Fussek finally explaining the situation.

“It appears there was an administrative lapse in handling the necessary transfers from the Russian Ski Association account to the Finnish and Czech accounts after the decision was taken by the FIS Doping Panel,” wrote Fussek.

The point to recounting all this is not merely to pat ourselves on the back.  Nat certainly deserves that pat for a fine piece of investigative work, but I see the whole episode as notable in that one of the outcomes is that FIS has stated they will correct the matter.

Over the last year, as we have expanded the breadth of our coverage, FIS staff have generally been responsive and helpful, but it is also seems that they are not used to being pushed.

So while part of our job is to keep the ski community informed, we also try to provide a level of accountability that has not existed in the past.

Nat deserves credit for his good work, and FIS as well for ultimately admitting to a problem. We will certainly be following up to see what happens next.

And while it can be fun to write about plans for new race formats, and what color suits the US Ski Team will be wearing next season, our mission is also to provide the accountability that ensures the right thing is being done.

Perhaps this sounds a little too self-congratulatory. It is not meant to be. But I am proud that FasterSkier has reached a place where our reporters are doing that level of journalism.

And whether it is FasterSkier, or some other media entity, it is notable that it is happening in the ski world.

We are always working to do a better job, and we know that there is still much room for improvement. We hold ourselves to the same high standards that we expect from others – be it FIS, National Governing Bodies, and individuals within the sport – and expect others to do the same.

The Russian Doping Problem

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Over the last months much has been made about the issue of doping in Russia – from Ian Harvey’s list of Russians caught since 2001, to the meeting called by USST Coach Justin Wadsworth in Norway to discuss how to catch dopers.  Then we find out the World Cup podium finishers are not tested every race.

As much as we would like the doping issue to go away, it keeps coming back.  Earlier this year, Zach Caldwell wrote a piece describing the US Doping Problem – referring to a seemingly American obsession with who is doping and who isn’t – an exercise that doesn’t get us anywhere.

And while I agree with Zach that focusing on what others may or may not be doing in terms of illegal performance enhancement, is a waste of time and energy, as a ski fan, it can be hard to ignore.

Last weekend Russian women finished 2nd, 5th, and 8th in the women’s 10km classic.  In the men’s 15km?  2nd, 3rd, 6th and 12th.  Add to that a 3rd in the men’s sprint and a 5th in the women’s and you have quite a weekend of racing.

With an average of nearly two Russian Cross-Country skiers and Biathletes caught every year since 2001, coupled with allegations of continuing issues (including systematic doping programs), it is impossible to feel good about thos results, and that is a shame – bad for fans and bad for the sport as a whole.

The idea of “innocent until proven guilty” is one of the foundations of our country, yet it is difficult to apply emotionally in this case.  I see Russia packing the top of the result list, and while none of those individuals have been caught, their ski program, and their nation have been found guilty over and over.

Strong results should not be cause for suspicion, but strong results coupled with an extraordinary history of doping is a different story. Norway has been a dominant force on the World Cup, but no Norwegian that I know of has ever been caught cheating.

The issue is not simple – the need to avoid false positives and draconian testing protocols must be balanced with the goal of a clean sport.  And the technology is constantly changing, creating an arms race of new methods of cheating, and new methods to catch the offenders.

The FIS and WADA need to address this issue.  The Tour de France was faced with a crisis in 1998, and responded with a strong effort to clean up the sport, including punishing a rider’s team if he is caught.  Is cycling clean?  By no means, but the strong and consistent effort has restored a degree of credibility.  While the cross-country World Cup is not in a state of crisis in regards to doping, there is a growing sense that it is still too easy to get away with cheating.  And one could argue that the 2001 World Championships in Lahti, Finland, when the hometeam was caught blatantly cheating, was similar to the ’98 Tour de France debacle.  But nine years later we are still left wondering if today’s winner reached the top by breaking the rules.

Recent Russian Doping History

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009
Ian Harvey of Toko USA provided the following information.  It is hard to imagine that there has not been some form of team supported doping with these numbers, but the Russians vehemently deny any systematic program.
Russian XC and Biathlon positive tests (suspended) since 2001

Egorova (twice positive) – Multiple Olympic and World Champion
Tchepalova – Multiple Olympic and World Champion
Lazutina – Multiple Olympic and World Champion
Danilova – Multiple Olympic and World Champion
Akhatova – Olympic and World Champion Biathlon
Pyleva – Olympic Silver Medalist and Multiple World Cup race winner Biathlon
Dementiev – Olympic Champion
Iourieva – World Champion Biathlon
Yaroschenko – World Champion Biathlon
Rysina – U23 World Champion
Matveeva – World Cup race winner
Baranova – Olympic Champion
Shirayev – 2nd place in a World Cup race

5 more Russians reportedly tested positive last winter but their B probes were mishandled so the positive result had to be thrown out. Numerous Russian biathletes have had hematocrits that were too high and had to sit out, but that does not constitute a positive test.  Additionally, Andrey Prokunin und Veronika Timofeyeva, both biathletes, had positive A-samples at this year’s Russian National Championships.

Here’s a fun little game for you. Name a Russian skier from the past 8 years who has not tested positive. There are some, but not too many!

Track the Dope

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Former overall World Cup Champion Virpi Kuitunen (FIN) recently called for the use of embedded microchips to track the whereabouts of professional athletes for anti-doping purposes.  The idea that this could ever become mandatory is ridiculous.  The privacy issues with requiring an athlete to embed an electronic tracking device in their body are enormous – and they should be.  Talk about Big Brother.

But the idea highlights several interesting issues.  First of all, the current system does not make anyone happy.  Athletes must report their daily location and include a one hour window when they will be available for anti-doping inspections.  Every day.  Do you ever make a last-minute decision to head out of town for a few days – to visit friends, hit the mountains?  Such spontaneous endeavors become significantly more difficult if you are an elite athlete.  Sure, as Duncan Douglas points out, competing at the highest level is a privilege, not a right, but most anti-doping measures have been inflicted on the innocent because of the cheaters.  At best, clean athletes gamely endure the strict protocols, while others have come out strongly against the invasions of privacy and the restrictions on their daily lives.

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Quod Erat Demonstrandum

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

A short preamble – this blog can be thought of as an editorial column for FasterSkier.  I will post observations and opinions, as well as information that may not warrant, or be ready for, a full article on the main site.  Feel free to make your opinions known in the comment section, or email me at topher@fasterskier.com

Zach Caldwell’s recent article titled “The US Doper Problem” generated some impassioned responses.  Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, the comments on the piece served to prove Zach’s assertion that the US has an unhealthy infatuation with doping, and completely ignored his presentation of a critical component to international success – the ability to replicate top performances consistently.  We can argue endlessly about who is doping, who is clean, the efficacy of testing, etc.  But none of that will get us closer to more medals.

We need to admit that doping is an issue.  We need to support testing, and programs to reduce that amount of cheating.  And then we need to go out and work as if the field is clean.  There is no question that doping has a major impact on the sport – and on US athletes.  If Veerpalu is indeed a cheater, he stole a medal from Kris Freeman.  The difference for Kris personally, and for US skiing,  between 4th and 3rd is enormous.  In sprinting, one cheater can have an exponentially large impact on the results.  In Whistler Kikkan Randall just missed advancing out of her quarterfinal in the classic sprint.  One of the two women ahead of her?  Natalia Matveeva (RUS), who tested positive for EPO at those World Cups.  If Matveeva is disqualified, Kikkan will move up a place, but who knows what would have happened had she qualified for the next round.

But none of this gets us anywhere.  Analyzing and complaining does not change the reality.  The US Ski Team appears to recognize this.  They put up with all the out-of-competition testing and I have never heard a USST athlete or coach make excuses based on doping.  All they can do is prepare as best as possible, and hope that is enough to beat clean and dirty athletes alike.

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