Has Russia really changed four years on from doping revelations?

National Anti-Doping-Plan


Has Russia really changed four years on from doping revelations?

Von Hajo Seppelt und Nick Butler

Four years on from ARD's exposure of one of the biggest doping scandals ever and Russia has largely been forgiven by sports bodies. But to what extent has the country really changed its attitude? Much lauded reforms to the Russian anti-doping system have not been implemented while "traitorous" whistleblowers live in fear of reprisal. Nick Butler and Hajo Seppelt investigate.

"We are determined to create one of the world's best sports anti-doping systems," claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin when speaking at a Forum, entitled "Russia: Country of Sports", in Ulyanovsk in October. "For this we have developed a national anti-doping plan and we implement it."

But his claim is not backed up by reality.

Research conducted and presented to ARD by Murmansk-based lawyer Andrey Sushko, once an investigator for the regional authorities, has shown that, out of Russia's 85 regions, only 10 have fully implemented new legislation. Coming into force in December 2016, this ordered each government to delegate a sport and health ministry official to deal specifically with anti-doping matters.

Other regions have implemented part of the legislation but not all. Others still have made vague references to the new law but without evidence of actual change.

This legislation formed a part of Russia's argument in convincing sports bodies that it had tightened its anti-doping rules.

State honours kept despite doping cases

Wladimir Putin

President Putin insists Russia has improved its anti-doping rules

A separate 2008 law change stripping athletes and coaches convicted of doping offences of honorary titles awarded by the Kremlin was rarely enforced, according to Sushko, before being quietly revoked in a new decree last year.

This means that many athletes from London 2012 and Sochi 2014 - including bobsledder Alexander Zubkov - still hold prestigious state titles. Sushko's research also found that, in some regions, those holding these honours are entitled to monetary rewards.

"It is important to talk about these things because these problems show that Russian laws are not being implemented when it comes to fighting doping." Sushko tells ARD: "These issues come down to Russian laziness and negligence. The example with deleting the clause about taking away honorary titles is the most demonstrative and most simple one."

The Kremlin said it was "out of their competence" when asked for a comment on the research of the lawyer. No other Russian Government body has responded.

Zubkov has been stripped of two Sochi Olympic titles after an appeal confirmed that his urine samples had been swapped. He is now President of the Russian Bobsleigh Federation. A Moscow Court last month cleared him of all doping charges in Russia in a clear snub to sporting rules. "What is this [doping] offense?" Zubkov told ARD when also appearing at the Ulyanovsk Sports Forum. "Manipulation of the doping sample? That does not concern me. The athlete is responsible if you find him doping."

Others present included former Sochi Olympics head Dmitry Chernyshenko. He denies any awareness of doping at the Games and suggests that media are exaggerating the problems. "The glory of the Sochi success would not be ever shadowed by this scandal," he concluded.

Whistleblowers considered the real traitors

The whistleblowers who exposed the scandals, meanwhile, still live in fear of Russian reprisals.

Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov, the former runner and anti-doping official who fell in love before exposing a state-sponsored fraud in Russian athletics, are now living in an undisclosed location in United States. They believe it will never be safe for them to return home.

 "It's better that nobody knows where we are and our neighbours don't know who we are," Vitaly explains. Yuliya pauses when asked about whether they are still at risk. "Of course, I don't know, maybe the Russians want to…revenge us," she eventually replies.

Former RUSADA head Nikita Kamaev died suddenly of a heart attack in February 2016 aged 52. He had plans to write a tell-all book about drug use in Russian sport.

Grigory Rodchenkov, the ex-Moscow Laboratory director whose revelations later in 2016 exposed the sample swapping scheme in Sochi, now lives in hiding under FBI protection in USA. His appearance has changed for security reasons and he only conducts interviews wearing dark glasses and a mask. A former Russian Olympic Committee President has called for him to be "shot for lying" while Putin himself has referred to him as an "idiot".

"Rodchenkov has to fear for the rest of his life because, from their point of view, he was a reason for major political scandal and embarrassment for the entire Russia Government, including Putin," concludes historian Yury Felshtinsky, an expert on how Russia deals with "traitors". "In some cases, the system hates you so much that it not only tries to punish you, but also your family."

Stand: 02.12.2018, 17:05