Russia In The Doping Crosshairs Again

Caught up in the Russian exclusion from Rio, top-rated high jumper Mariya Lasitskene now faces the prospect of not being eligible for Tokyo either. (JIRO MOCHIZUKI/IMAGE OF SPORT)

THE ONGOING SAGA of Russia and its drug-testing scandal took a powerful turn in November as the ruling bodies confronted the suspect nation over inconsistencies in the data that came from the problematic Moscow laboratory over the summer.

The country’s sports minister, Pavel Kolobkov, insisted there had been no manipulation of the data. However, Yuriy Ganus, head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, challenged that, saying, “He lives in a world of illusion.”
Faced with compelling evidence that test results were altered—and that the Russians have not come clean when given the opportunity to do so, WADA is set to make a decision on December 9 on whether to subject the nation to further sanctions.

According to German journalist Hajo Seppelt, Russia only answered 23 of 31 questions regarding the data inconsistencies. A WADA spokesman denied that, but a meeting with the Russians to go over their responses had to be delayed because the volume of the written response apparently overwhelmed WADA’s investigators.

At the end of November, WADA’s compliance review committee recommended major sanctions including the withdrawal of various events from Russia and the ban of the nation’s athletes for the next 4 years from the Olympics and other major events. Announcing the decision will be one of WADA head Craig Reedie’s final acts in office, and the organization is facing immense pressure from both sides.

USADA head Travis Tygart says that WADA could lose all of its credibility if it goes easy on Russia, and he urged an Olympic ban, charging, “Russia continues to flout the world’s anti-doping rules, kick clean athletes in the gut and poke WADA in the eye and get away with it time and time again.”

IOC head Thomas Bach came out as not in favor of Russia receiving a blanket ban from the Tokyo Olympics, explaining, “Our principle is that the guilty ones must be punished as hard as possible and the innocent ones must be protected.” An official statement by the IOC at the end of the month, however, took a stronger stance, saying in part, “the IOC stresses that the guilty should be punished in the toughest way possible because of the seriousness of this infringement and thus welcomes the sanctions for the Russian authorities responsible. However, given the seriousness of the manipulation, we strongly urge WADA to take further action.”

In response, a spokesman for the Kremlin adopted a tack that critics will find disingenuous: “You know the Russian sporting authorities have been, are and will remain as open as possible to cooperation and collaboration with the international sporting community and also with WADA.”

Other Russia-related developments:
•Microsoft’s head of customer security announced in late October that the software giant had evidence that Russian government-associated hackers had staged attacks on 16 international anti-doping agencies since just after the Rio Olympics, saying, “Some of these attacks were successful, but the majority were not.”

•The outgoing vice-president of WADA, Norway’s Linda Helleland, asserts in a new book that during the long process of dealing with the Russian scandal, she was informed by Norway’s secret service that she and her family had been spied on by Norwegian companies acting on behalf of the Russians.

•Banned Russian runner Yuliya Gushchina has claimed that the only reason her samples registered as positive was that the data was manipulated by Grigoriy Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow laboratory and one of the initial whistleblowers in the scandal.

•On November 21, the Athletics Integrity Unit took action in the case of high jumper Danil Lysenko, the reigning world indoor champion, who was charged with whereabouts violations back in the summer of ’18. The AIU suspended the federation president, Dmitriy Shlyakhtin, and 6 others for violations of the doping code and obstructing the investigation. He was replaced by Yuliya Tarasenko. The AIU charges followed a 15-month investigation of Lysenko’s violations that was conducted in cooperation with RUSADA. Among the sanctions is a freeze on the process of allowing Russians to compete as authorized neutral athletes.

•Another Russian high jump star, Mariya Lasitskene, again lambasted federation officials, posting on Instagram, “The new team, whose task was to take us out of this doping nightmare, has turned out no better than the old one. And in some ways worse.” Ironically, given her outspoken stance against her federation, Lasitskene has started to feel the heat personally, having her invite to February’s Glasgow indoor meet canceled when organizers said that she would not be able to get neutral status approved in time, given the freeze on the process. ◻︎