Athletics doping scandal: Six things you need to know

Athletics doping scandal: Six things you need to know

Global sport continues to dish up crises that sound like they come from some sort of B-grade Hollywood flick. Now Russian Athletics stand accused of a doping programme so sophisticated it would make Lance Armstrong blush. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks six things you need to know about the scandal.

It has been described as a scandal bigger than the one currently facing Fifa, because it involved not only a grand-scale cover-up, but also because it came from the Russian government, and because it actually subverted competition. The London 2012 Olympics, where Russia finished behind the United States of America on the medals table, has been labelled as being “sabotaged” by the doped athletes.

Systematic cheating with alleged cover-ups that would make Lance Armstrong blush, has been laid bare in an independent report, as yet another global sport is plunged into crisis. The Russian Athletics Federation have until Friday to respond to the claims. The other parties accused of being involved have already pleaded innocence. Unsurprisingly, the Kremlin has denied everything.

“If accusations are being voiced, they should be supported by evidence. As long as evidence is not provided, it is difficult to accept accusations. They are groundless,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The Russian sports ministry said it was “working closely with Wada” (The World Anti-Doping Agency). The Ministry added that it was “not surprised by most of the points in the report”, that it was “fully aware of the problems in”, and that they “do not interfere in [national anti-doping agency] Rusada, and anti-doping laboratory work”.

It is a lot to digest, because there are so many facets to the story, and many issues interlinked. We picked six of the key points that stand out.

Russia could be suspended and miss out on the 2016 Rio Olympics

The independent report was a hefty 325 pages long, and put together by Dick Pound (do not laugh at his name), a former Wada president. He has spent almost a year looking at claims of cheating and cover ups that involve everything from extortion to colluding (more on that later). The report recommends that Russia be suspended from competition, and barred from the Olympic Games in Rio next year, unless it entirely overhauls its approach. However, it is not quite as simple as that. Wada could declare Russia as being non-compliant with its code, which will leave what happens next up to the International Athletics Federation (IAAF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Sebastian Coe is having a real baptism of fire in his new job

When allegations of the doping first started to surface, Seb Coe, not yet in the job of IAAF president, called it an “attack on his sport”. But Coe was vice chairman for years, and many are wondering how he could have been so blind all this time. Right under Coe and company’s noses, drugs were rife. Many pundits reckon the scandals means everyone should resign, but Coe is not having any of it. In an interview with Channel 4s Jon Snow, he got grilled. Snow said: “Either you were asleep on the job, or people can say: ‘There are only two choices here – asleep on the job, or corrupt.’ Which is it?” Coe held firm, and said that the IAAF needs to “look at the systems that were in place”, in order to establish if they could have “seen this coming”.

Coe is under scrutiny because his predecessor is in deep trouble

Last week, French police arrested former IAAF president Lamine Diack, the IAAF legal adviser, Habib Cissé, and Gabriel Dollé, the former longstanding head of the IAAF’s anti-doping unit, over cover-up allegations. Diack faces allegations of accepting £660,000 to cover up doping violations. Coe has previously said that he has a “deep affection” and “great admiration” for Diack, praising his “shrewd stewardship”.

Lots of authority figures are involved, including the Russian government

Onto the juicy stuff. Pound suggests that the Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, was in on it. He reckons Mutko was “complicit” in a programme that could only have happened with the “knowledge and consent” of state authorities. But it doesn’t stop there. Grigory Rodchenko, head of the Moscow testing laboratory, has admitted that he intentionally destroyed almost 1,500 samples in December last year, shortly before Wada officials visited. According to the report, Rodchenko “not only accepted but also requested money in order to execute the concealment of positive test results, which makes him equally responsible for incidents where coaches or officials extorted athletes even if he was not personally made aware of the extortion.” Another coach, Oleg Popov, claimed that if athletes did not dope, they would be cut out of the system. When these athletes then failed drug tests, there was no punishment; they were expected to dope. Pretty serious stuff.

It could mean that Caster Semenya is upgraded to Olympic Gold

One of the athletes involved in the whole thing is 800m runner, Mariya Savinova, who beat South Africa’s Caster Semenya to gold in the 2012 London Olympics. Savinova is now facing a lifetime ban, and could have her medals, for the 2012 Olympics and 2011 World Championships, taken away. Semenya said over the weekend that even if this happened she will “still only celebrate her silver because that’s what she won”. That’s very humble of South Africa’s darling of the track, but nobody would begrudge her if she felt cheated out of a gold.

Sport needs to clean up its act, or we might as well start watching WWE

You probably know this one already, but between the Fifa corruption scandal, doping in cycling, cricket match-fixing, and now the athletics doping scandal, sport is in a pretty dire state. There is no “fix-all” for any of the scandals to recently hit various sports, but there is a way for fans to take a stand, and vote with their eyeballs and their wallets. For fans, simply not watching is probably one of the most difficult things to do. We watch sport as an escape, for inspiration, and as a distraction from the real world. We watch because many athletes offer real and relatable stories, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the bigger the business of sport gets, the bigger the lackadaisical attitudes of administrators in preserving the integrity of sport, even at a time where they have all the resources in the world to help them. DM

Photo: IAAF President Lord Sebastian Coe arrives to speak at the ‘Future Decoded’ conference in London, Britain, 10 November 2015. A World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commission on 09 November 2015 recommended athletics governing body IAAF to suspend Russian athletes from competition as it reported on its investigation into systematic doping in Russia. EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA.


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