MONTREAL (AP) — In the opinion of a whistleblower who uncovered Russia’s doping scourge, most of the changes in the country’s track and anti-doping programs are “just fake,” and not nearly extensive enough to allow the team into the Olympics this summer.
Vitaly Stepanov, who along with his wife, Yulia, blew the lid off systemic doping in Russia, told The Associated Press that he estimated 80 percent of coaches in high-level Russian track had used doping to prepare athletes for the London Olympics. A decision on the track team’s eligibility for the Rio de Janeiro Games is coming next month from the sport’s international federation.
But Stepanov told the AP he hasn’t seen enough reform or penalties to make him believe the team could be clean by the time the Olympics start in August.
“Those 80 percent of coaches must be sanctioned,” he said. “I’ve seen a few coaches facing lifetime bans, but others, they still prefer to hide everything. All the changes being shown are just fake ones.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency is meeting this week in Montreal, where Russia’s issues will be discussed.
An AP review of news reports and official documents announcing sanctions estimates fewer than a dozen high-level athletics coaches and other support personnel have been suspended since the German documentary about the scandal in Russia’s track team aired in December 2014.
Britian’s Sky News television reported that the number of doping tests being conducted in Russia, which have been overseen by Britain’s anti-doping agency since Russia’s was suspended, has fallen dramatically. But Russian sport minister Vitaly Mutko told Sky News the Russians have been cooperating with testers and “there is no basis for our team to not be participating in the Olympic Games.”
Stepanov disagrees. He also has long been flustered by WADA’s slow pace.
The former high-level employee at the Russian anti-doping agency spent four years sending dozens of emails to WADA that laid out precise details about schemes to load up athletes with illegal drugs, then make sure they wouldn’t get caught.
Stepanov said he commonly received nothing more than a simple, three-word response to those emails: “Confirmed. Message received.”
WADA officials say they did not have the authority to act until the anti-doping code was revised in 2015, and they didn’t think turning the information over to Russian authorities would produce results. There are passages in the old code, however, that can be interpreted differently, including one that says WADA’s roles and responsibilities include cooperating with “relevant national and international organizations and agencies, including but not limited to, facilitating inquiries and investigations.”
“WADA continues to obfuscate the issue,” U.S. Biathlon president Max Cobb said. “They keep saying, ‘Show us the evidence.’ But evidence is what you get when you investigate.”
It wasn’t until Stepanov went to the media with his information that WADA finally called for an investigation, leaving a four-year gap — new evidence shows that gap may also include the Sochi Olympics — during which the world’s highest authority on anti-doping knew there was trouble throughout the Russian system but did little.
“I was thinking, there’s this huge structure that’s been there since 2000 and they’ve dealt with this kind of case many times and they have investigators,” said Stepanov, who lives in the United States in a location he does not reveal. “So, I thought it was something that was usual for them. But I guess I was wrong on this one.”
Last year, WADA appointed an independent commission chaired by its former president, Dick Pound. Since Pound issued his first of two reports in November, WADA and track’s governing body, the IAAF, have taken a number of steps, including:
— Suspending the Russian track team and declaring both Russia’s anti-doping agency and the Moscow testing lab out of compliance.
— Putting the British anti-doping agency in charge of testing in Russia.
— Naming international experts to help rebuild Russia’s anti-doping agency.
— Proposing that TV networks pay a portion of their Olympic rights fees into an anti-doping fund, in part to improve WADA’s ability to conduct investigations.
— Naming an independent commission that set a comprehensive list of milestones the Russian track team must meet to have its suspension lifted.
But efforts to clean up Russia’s doping scourge was complicated this week by Stepanov’s latest revelation — that four Russian gold-medal winners at the Sochi Games were using performance-enhancing drugs.
It’s not all that surprising. Pound made clear in his report: “There is no reason to believe that athletics is the only sport in Russia to have been affected by the identified systemic failures.”
WADA announced Tuesday it was investigating the new claims, first by trying to access conversations Stepanov secretly recorded with Grigory Rodchenkov, who resigned as head of Moscow’s anti-doping lab after Pound’s commission issued its first report.
Stepanov said Rodchenkov told him there was a “Sochi List” of Russian athletes who had doped.
“That was really frustrating to learn, that this is what happened in competition that billions of people watch around the world,” Stepanov said. “Some of the competitions are decided not on the field, but in the lab. Obviously, I’m really concerned.”