Doping scandal: How corrupt is Russian sport?
Recent doping-related scandals in the Russian sport have disrupted our athletes’ plans for the upcoming Olympics–2016 in Rio de Janeiro and frustrated millions of Russian sports fans. Some people believe that political intrigues are the true reason behind these scandals, the others blame the current international sport system that allows to conceal the use of banned substances for money. So, how corrupt is the Russian sport in reality?
No one would argue that achieving top results in international sport tournaments requires joint efforts by a whole team of specialists: medics, researchers, engineers. Sport is constantly developing. New inventions – from equipment and gear to training regimes and special diets – are introduced all the time. Chemists also contribute to sport records – because until a new drug is officially banned, it can be used absolutely legally.
What a scandal!
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) publishes on the annual basis updated lists of drugs that must be completely excluded from athletes’ ration during preparations to tournaments. Detection of such drugs in doping tests results in immediate disqualification of the athlete.
The updated list of drugs to be banned starting the next year is always published in advance. On September 30, 2015 the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) web-site has published the list of main changes coming into effect on January 1, 2016. In particular, it was announced that Meldonium must be completely excluded.
This drug was actively used by Russian sportsmen because it allows to reduce the strain on heart during intense physical exercises. Before the ban, medics used to recommend Meldonium to strength sports athletes. If our athletes stop using the preparation immediately after the publication, they would not have any issues.
However, the drug description stated that its half-life period is only 6 hours, and none of the sport functionaries asked: how long trace amounts of Meldonium can be detected by doping tests? When it became known that the complete elimination of the drug from organism requires months, it was already too late.
A series of scandals occurred in March 2016. Many titled Russian sportsmen have been caught in using the banned drug, including Pavel Kulizhnikov, world champion in speed skating; tennis player Maria Sharapova, winner of the Grand Slam tournament; Semen Elistratov, Olympic champion in short track speed skating, etc. But the group most affected by the Meldonium scandal were Russian track and field athletes. All of them have been excluded from the upcoming Olympic Games–2016 by a decision of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
Currently the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne is examining arbitration requests from 67 Russian sportsmen willing to participate in the Olympics in Brazil. The athletes must prove their innocence in the use of banned drugs on the urgent basis to clear their fair name and be able to participate in the Olympic Games. All of them have already passed tests whose cleanness was confirmed by the UK Anti-Doping service.
Rodchenkov and the criminal case
The IAAF decision has been largely influenced by testimonies of Grigory Rodchenkov, former director of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory, who is currently living and working in the USA. The foreign expert told that the Russian sport system is totally corrupt, and Russian athletes achieve high results by using banned drugs – while sport functionaries allegedly cover trainers and athletes by switching doping tests for bribes or otherwise making ‘arrangements’ with RUSAD.
Immediately a smear campaign against Rodchenkov started in Russia. It turned out that the whistleblower, being a part of the corrupt system and heading a major national anti–doping laboratory, was himself involved into operations attracting attention of law enforcement authorities.
The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (the ICR) is currently investigating a criminal case against Grigory Rodchenkov initiated under Part 1 of Article 201 of the Criminal Code of the Russia Federation (Abuse of authority by a person discharging managerial functions). Some witnesses state that the suspect used to purchase banned medicines in the USA for reselling to athletes and their trainers in Russia. The former laboratory director was assuring his clients that he will conceal the presence of doping in their tests.
The investigation believes that Rodchenkov was the mastermind behind this criminal scheme. In order to conceal consequences of his actions, the suspect has destroyed tests of all Russian athletes, thus, depriving those who never used banned drugs of the possibility to clear their fair name.
In addition, in 2012 Marina Rodchenkova, sister of the former laboratory director, was found guilty under Part 3 of Article 234 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Illegal traffic in potent and toxic substances for the purpose of sale on a large scale). The woman used to sell banned medicines to sportsmen. The investigation believes that her brother Grigory Rodchenkov, who held a high-ranked position at that time, could supply her with doping for the purposes of sale.
"Athlete is the most rightness person"
Maksim Ivannikov is a master of sports in rowing; he agreed to talk with the CrimeRussia journalist about doping.
"I have no relation to this anymore. For several years already, I neither participate in tournaments, nor do I work as a trainer, nor belong to the federation; therefore, I can speak about this without any fear," – the former athlete explains his openness.
The peak of Ivannikov’s sport career was in 2008, when the master of sports became the bronze medalist at an all-Russia tournament. Currently he runs a business and, together with his wife, raises two children.
According to Maksim Ivannikov, all strength sports athletes use, to a greater or lesser extent, various preparations – either permitted or banned as doping – to improve their results.
"It is impossible to sustain exhausting hours-long exercises without drugs improving the muscle tonus and stabilizing work of the heart and other organs. Do you know what the hands of a rower turn into after a few years of tournaments? Their active life span would be exhausted very soon without special pills," – Ivannikov says.
He does not believe that foreign athletes abstain from doping. Maksim Ivannikov agrees with Grigory Rodchenkov that the Russian sport system is corrupt, but thinks that this adverse phenomenon affects the whole world, not only our country. Doping-related scandals occur, basically, due to the two reasons:
1. Sport functionaries from some country were unable to make ‘arrangements’ with the WADA management; or
2. Somebody interested in disqualification of a specific athlete paid more.
The sportsman noted that no one would speak of this openly because the athlete is the most rightless person in the world sport system and functionaries can do with him whatever they want.
"Just imagine: for your whole life, you were living and exercising with the only purpose, and then somebody disqualifies you right before the Olympics. And you clearly understand that this was your only chance, because four years later your body will be unable to achieve the required result. Therefore, I am very sorry for the athletes – victims of doping scandals. Of course, new medicines are being invented, the science does not stand still. And I don’t believe that the big sport would ever become corruption–free. This is in the human nature. Sport functionaries and officials feel themselves invincible and do whatever they want," stated Maksim Ivannikov.
He does not think that there are political reasons behind the last doping scandal in the International Association of Athletics Federations. The true reasons are more simple and straightforward: there is only one gold medal in each sport, Olympic Games are conducted only once in four years – and everybody wants a victory. If the Russians are excluded from the tournament, everybody else’s chances would increase greatly.
In other words, according to Maksim Ivannikov, WADA is acting in the interest of our sport, not political, rivals.
“Victory is above all things”
A track and field athletics trainer in an Astrakhan youth sports schools, on condition of anonymity, has also admitted using of various medicines by many athletes.
"We all live in the same system. I can not state this 100%, but ‘chemicals’ are injected to almost all sportsmen. You can make an arrangement to pass the doping test one day before the tournament. And right before the start – you take banned substances. For example, erythropoietin," – the trainer says.
Of course, he does not recommend such drugs to his trainees, who are adolescents aged 14 – 17. But he does not see any harm in the use of some drugs from the WADA black list by adults.
"Nowadays the word ‘doping’ should not be associated with terrible anabolic steroids used by bodybuilders in the 1980s. Those steroids are very harmful, indeed. But the sport medicine has progressed considerably since then. Athletes use absolutely legal medicines, including those prescribed to ordinary patients by their doctors. These drugs just improve the stamina," – the trainer explains.
Of course, the trainer of young athletes admits that the use of doping violates the main sport principle: equal chances for everyone and fair contest. But in the situation when everybody uses such substances, if someone decides to be honest to goodness, he would never win. This would mean wasting efforts of parents, trainers, medics, and all other people who have invested considerable time and efforts into the athlete.
"Victory is above all things. This is the only purpose of any athlete. The first place must be taken by all means, this is the law of our world," – the trainer concludes.
He says that corruption is a common thing in the Russian sport. He is not surprised that heads of regional federations collect money to pay federal-level functionaries for switching doping test samples or putting on hold investigations in this field. Everything is bought and sold here: from referee’s loyalty to better start position.
According to the trainer, doping is costly. Banned medicines are either secretly produced on legal pharmaceutical factories as per orders from high-ranked sport functionaries, or smuggled to Russia. The USA and China are the main suppliers of such pills. Some countries of the former USSR, whose national legislations permit this, produce many drugs from the WADA black list. As a result, Russians have to pay extra money to illegal dealers for such medicines.
"They have already made a fortune on our athletes. They raise prices all the time. If this trend continues, the ‘democratic’ track and field athletics, that do not require expensive equipment, would become available only to those who have sponsors," – the trainer laments.
Not only Russian sports are affected by corruption. The above-mentioned Grigory Rodchenkov told the journalists, inter alia, that during the Olympics–2012 in London, the cost to ‘bail out’ an athlete from the doping test was $500 thousand.
Apparently, there was no difference for international functionaries what country is the athlete from. Money was the main factor. It is hard to imagine what sums have ended up in pockets of sport officials by the end of the Olympics.
While state and municipal officials involved into corruption schemes face the risk of being prosecuted, sport functionaries are basically protected from any threats. The whole sport system is designed with the purpose to relieve the functionaries from any responsibility. Losses of athletes are their personal losses, while their wins are credited to the high-ranked sport managers.
In addition, when everybody is in cahoots with others and totally dependent on superior authorities, no one would stand his principal ground: everybody knows his own sins and understands that he can be scourged any time.
Corruption has infiltrated almost all socio-economic spheres of the modern Russia. And the sport, as an element of the social life, is not an exception. Unfortunately, instead of developing children’s mass physical training, improving the scientific and methodical basis, and preparation of a new generation of trainers, the functionaries prefer to use a proved method – doping.
Any violation of rules and regulations inevitably leads to bribing controlling officials or superior authorities in order to conceal the violation. This is how corruption entangles everybody: from athletes to heads of sport federations.
The current situation is unacceptable; a complete revision of approaches to the sport development is required in Russia. Main emphasis must be put on the younger generation of athletes who will gain their victories in fair contest.
Lieutenant General Oleg Troshin announced he is going to retire in May 2018. He is doing it following a decision taken a year ago – not due to non-existent issues with the agency reported by some local media outlets.