PtG Article 14.11.2017

The Russian drama

Analysis: What we are now witnessing in the field of doping is an unprecedented drama in the world of sports mirroring the drama we see in the world of international politics. And the big question is: what to do with Russia?

Six Russian cross-country skiers have received life bans from future Olympics (Maxim Vylegzhanin, Alexei Petukhov, Evgenia Shapovalova, Yulia Ivanova, Alexander Legkov and Evgeniy Belov) and have had their results retracted from the Sochi Olympics. Based on the information we have from the McLaren report published December 2016 we can expect more life bans and further changes on the results list from the Winter Olympics in Russia in 2014. Soon after the decision on the Russian cross-country skiers, the IOC removed their names and results from its home page.

Earlier this year, the IOC set up two separate commissions to assess the content of the McLaren report published in December 2016: the Oswald Commission and the Schmid Commission. Many observers have pointed out that this was far too late, and also that the IOC had in possession enough evidence to take action against Russia long time ago.

The mandate of the Oswald Commission is to assess the doping claims made against individual athletes during the Sochi Olympics, while the Schmid Commission concentrates on the claims of state interference into the anti-doping work of Russia.

It is the findings of the Oswald Commission that made way for the expulsion of the six Russian cross-country skiers. While the punishment of Aleksander Legkov (the gold medal winner of the 50K and silver medal winner of the relay) and his compatriots met heavy criticism from both the athletes and state officials in Russia, much stronger reactions are expected when the Schmid Commission concludes its work.

According to my information, the Schmid Commission is given detailed information of severe state involvement in doping in Russia, with explicit details of what certain people did at certain times in the run up to the Sochi Olympics. It is presumed that this is the same information that was handed over to WADA this week.

The athletes under investigation

The drama we are witnessing started with solid investigative journalism from Hajo Seppelt and his colleagues at ARD and with information provided to the New York Times by Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Russian anti-doping laboratory in Moscow.

The information provided led to several independent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) investigations, headed by the two Canadian lawyers Richard Pound and Richard McLaren. Their reports have confirmed almost every single piece of the work done by journalists and as well as information from whistleblower Rodchenkov. I guess more information provided by journalists and whistleblowers will be confirmed by the two IOC commissions in the weeks to come.

In the detailed and extensive report presented by McLaren to the public in December, almost one year ago today, a list of over 1,000 Russian athletes were identified with possible links to state-sponsored doping programs, suspicion of doping or manipulation of doping samples. By comparing the different documents in the report (made public on WADA’s home page) it is possible to identify a great number of these athletes.

Just a couple of weeks after the presentation of the final McLaren report, an Excel document started to circulate in the media with different sheets identifying hundreds of the athletes in the report. Most of the athletes with suspicious doping samples in this document come from winter sports. By conducting a systematic analysis of the different documents in the McLaren report, we find a close match with many of the athletes in the Excel document.

In relation to the investigation of the Sochi Olympics and the ongoing hearings in the Oswald and Schmid Commissions there are particularly two lists of names that are of great interest. Firstly, the so-called Duchess List or list of protected athletes before the Sochi Games containing 37 names. Secondly, a list of 28 or 30 athletes investigated by the Oswald Commission. On the protected list, for instance, we find the six cross-country skiers just expelled together with eight other cross-country skiers.

Comparing the protected list with the forensic reports on the urine tests and containers of the doping samples, we find that only the six cross-country skiers just expelled have suspicious doping tests. The same goes for three biathletes, ten bobsled and skeleton drivers and three speed skaters. Even if we can identify 37 names on the protected list, not all of them have suspicious doping samples.

All of the athletes with suspicious doping samples on the protected list are among the 28 or 30 athletes under investigation by the Oswald Commission, together with athletes from the same sport or other sports. All of these athletes have been or will be interviewed by the Oswald Commission and among these athletes we find several female ice hockey players, for instance. The most prominent name on this list is figure skater and gold medallist during the Sochi Olympics, Adelina Sotnikova. She was cleared by the IOC in the beginning of November.

Poor handling

The IOC’s handling of the Russian case has been poor and many observers blame the IOC president for trying to favour his personal relationship to the Russian president in this case. Prior to the Olympic Games in Rio last year, the IOC did not want to suspend Russia from the Games en bloc, but asked each individual federation to make their own assessments. This resulted in some federations suspending Russian athletes, others not. From outside it seems that the IOC uses much of the same tactic before the Winter Games in Pyeongchang by focusing on individuals and not on Russia as a nation and by that hoping to let Russia participate in the Olympics next year.

If this is the case, the strategy is about to collapse. Firstly, it seems that the IOC is not following its own strategy any longer. During the Olympic Council meeting in October, the IOC president Thomas Bach attacked all those who jumped to conclusions on Russia before the Oswald and Schmid Commissions had concluded, scheduled to be in the beginning of December. However, long before both Commissions have begun to conclude, the IOC has started exclusions of athletes.

Secondly, while the media as well as the IOC Commissions and WADA receive more detailed information day by day, Russia refuses to admit anything at all. This leaves the IOC with no choice but to punish Russia, one way or the other.

This drama will not be over before long. All the athletes will test their cases in CAS and if they are cleared and given back their medals and rights to participate, the IOC has made an almost complete mess out of the situation. Further, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the hunt for Russian dopers is an American attempt to manipulate the Russian elections that take place in March next year and the mess will be complete if the Schmid Commission finds that Putin or other state officials were taking part in a doping cover-up before and during the Sochi Games. Will the IOC make such information public?

A Norwegian version of this analysis is available on Andreas Selliaas' personal blog.