01 December, 2015

The doping curse

I should start by explaining the use fthe word "curse". It should not be understood as doping being a curse to athletics. My position on the doping problem is clearly less extreme than this as I have explained in a previous post of mine. No, the curse here is upon myself. I have stated repeatedly that I do not like writing about doping, and despite this, doping is the dominant theme among my posts. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, a temporary glitch. Still, here I am, writing once more about doping issues.

Shortly after the leak of the IAAF database with results of thousands of blood tests over the last decade more shocking news saw the day. (I do not imply here that they are related to the previous revelations, although the WDR broadcast clearly is). Now, the facts.

French prosecutors claimed that Papa Massata Diack, son of the IAAF ex-president, has allegedly pocketed substantial amounts of money (more than a million) in order to cover doping violations. This scheme, which, according to the press, his father was probably aware of, sought to blackmail athletes who were suspected of doping. This is not the first time Papa Massata Diack is accused of misappropriation. Already towards the end of his father's term he was accused of having requested a considerable amount of money from Qatar in order to provide support to that country's bid for the organisation of the 2017 World Championships. The allegations were denied and P.M. Diack in a letter to the IAAF council has asked for the inquiry, which was under way, to be terminated. 

However this time the matter is more serious. According to the french national financial prosecutor, E. Houlette, “it was a form of blackmail, saying to an athlete ‘pay or you cannot compete'. It is a system of corruption". The current IAAF president, Sebastian Coe, has called alleged bribery within athletics 'abhorrent' (although some people found that Sir Sebastian was a tad too slow to react to the revelations). Following an investigation by the World Anti Doping Agency the money was alleged to have been paid to cover up positive drug tests in Russia.

The french newspaper 20 Minutes gives a succint summary of the situation in Russia:
Before a control the athletes were informed that a control was pending so that they could take measures.
During the controls the russian police was stepping in in order to make sure the samples were going to the Moscow lab.
After the controls, a special "antidoping" lab in Moscow was analysing the samples in order to detect positives and suggest counter-measures.
Athletes with positive tests were compelled to bribe the director of the lab for the tests to remain uncovered. 
The whole process was monitored by FSB (ex-KGB) agents, some of them disguised as laboratory assistants.

Jean-Pierre Vazel in his blog has published an excellent article under the title: "L’athlétisme Russe suspendu, et alors ? (Russian athletics suspended. So what?)" where he analyses the report of the WADA commission. If you can read french I suggest that you take the time to read it. While analysing the russian crisis he makes some most pertinent remarks. First, suspending the moscovite antidoping laboratory (we are talking here about the official one) is no big deal: every year some laboratories around the world are suspended. In fact the Moscow lab was provisionally suspended already last year and, what really raises questions, was that the Lausanne laboratory, tutor of that of Moscow and for which some irregularities have been noticed (destruction of samples against the recommendations of the WADA) in the past, came out unscathed. Second, the report of the WADA commission focuses on endurance disciplines, neglecting those of speed-force and does not extend its investigations into other sports besides athletics. Moreover  Russia is the sole object of the investigation. However in the WDR broadcast Kenya was clearly pointed out and in fact the president of the national federation was compelled to resign last year. The controls of the use of EPO are now efficient enough (which has now spurred discussions over the use of EPO micro-doses, in principle undetectable) but those on anabolic steroïds are far less so. It is a whole section of athletics, and a different geographic region, which is concerned by these anabolic/hormonal doping problems. I am afraid that the questions raised by J.P. Vazel will remain unanswered (and most probably he is aware of this when he concludes his title with "et alors ?").

World distribution of doping offenders

The suspension of the Russian federation is now pronounced and not appealed. The reinstatement of the federation will only be accepted if the IAAF Inspection Team decides that the verification criteria are fulfilled. Although the list of these criteria is not finalised they will most probably hinge upon the following principles as announced by the IAAF:
1. Immediate corrective and disciplinary measures
2. Establishing an effective and operational anti-doping framework in Russia
3. Structural and regulatory reforms to deter and reduce existing incentives to engage in doping
4. Implementing a robust, transparent and efficient anti-doping testing programme
5. Ensuring Code compliance going forward.

Unless the IAAF Inspection Team files a favourable report the Russian Federation will remain suspended and we may see no russian athletes at the Rio Olympics. To my eyes this looks like a major injustice. Why should individual, clean athletes pay the price for a corrupted system? For me all russian champions without a doping offense in the past and who are tested negative before the games should be allowed to participate at the games, the suspension of their federation notwithstanding. It is a basic question of fair-play, something Sir Sebastian, with his british inheritance, should be particularly sympathetic with. 

No comments:

Post a Comment