Post-Soviet Doping and International Sports’ Corruption Problem

In the latest case of corruption in international sports, a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency accuses Russia of systematically doping its athletes.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23:  The Olympic flag and Russian flag are raised as the Russian National Anthem is sung during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23: The Olympic flag and Russian flag are raised as the Russian National Anthem is sung during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

It’s been a rough year for international sports. In May, several top FIFA officials were arrested on charges of bribery and corruption in what quickly turned into a months-long scandal that revealed decades of corruption in the international soccer industry. Last week, French prosecutors opened an investigation into Lamine Diack, former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), accusing him of money laundering and corruption.

And on Monday, investigators from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accused professional Russian athletes, including Olympians and marathoners, of participating in a state-run doping program that implicates some of the country’s top sports officials.

According to the WADA, an independent agency established with support from the International Olympic Committee in 1999, the doping scandal was not limited to the athletes themselves. Russian trainers, coaches, doctors, government employees, and staff at a laboratory that oversaw drug testing during the 2014 Sochi Olympics were all complicit in providing the drugs or helping to cover it up, concluded a WADA report released Monday.

What made these allegations even more egregious was the knowledge that the government of the Russian Federation provides direct funding and oversight for the above institutions, thus suggesting that the federal government was not only complicit in the collusion, but that it was effectively a state-sponsored regime,” the report says.

Investigators said the evidence gathered during the 10-month investigation was reminiscent of Soviet-era doping scandals, when young, promising athletes in East Germany were systematically drugged to improve the country’s chances of winning international competitions. Many of those athletes, who took home hundreds of medals between 1964 and 1988, went on to have significant health problems due to the drugs they were encouraged to take as teenagers.

Monday’s accusations against Russia are especially egregious because of the prominent role Russia has played in international sports in recent years. In 2013, Moscow hosted the track and field world championships, and in 2014 Sochi hosted the Winter Olympics. Russia is also slated to hold FIFA’s next World Cup, in 2018, though investigations into money laundering and bribery that were allegedly behind the hosting award could impact whether it goes on as planned.

The Russian laboratory responsible for covering up drug test results had come under scrutiny before, but still managed to oversee testing during the Sochi Olympics and, if all goes as planned, will reportedly oversee testing during the 2018 World Cup as well.

This most recent investigation by WADA was prompted largely by German broadcaster ARD, which released a documentary about Russian doping culture last year.

According to WADA, Russia has violated sporting drug policy at a significantly higher rate than other countries. In 2013, there were 225 reported violations, accounting for close to 12 percent of violations worldwide that year. Of those, roughly one-fifth were track and field athletes.

And on Monday, the agency recommended that Russia be suspended by the IAAF, track and field’s world governing body.

Ironically, the IAAF may be complicit in having allowed the doping to go on in the first place: French prosecutors investigating Diack say he pocketed more than $1 million in deals with Russian authorities that allowed athletes to continue competing even after tests revealed they were taking performance-enhancing drugs. Diack, who is 82, stepped down from his post in August after a 16-year tenure.

Anticipating the release of Monday’s report, the Russian athletics federation suspended five prominent athletes last week, including Maria Konovalova, a marathon runner who placed second and third at the Chicago Marathon in recent years.

According to the WADA, much of the data “tends to demonstrate criminal conduct” and has thus been turned over by the agency to Interpol, an intergovernmental police association.

And Interpol announced Monday that it will help French authorities coordinate a global investigation into the role of doping in international sports competitions, which could also implicate a company registered in Singapore that investigators believe channeled funds related to incidents of corruption.

The doping scandal is just the latest in a seemingly never-ending series of investigations into international sports, ranging from soccer tournaments to the Olympics, which raises questions about how large a role corruption plays in the sporting arena.

But in an interview with the New York Times, Richard H. McLaren, one of the report’s co-authors, said that systemic doping changed the nature of sports in a way that other forms of corruption, including selling the location of a tournament, could not.

“Bribes and payoffs don’t change actual sporting events,” McLaren said. “But doping takes away fair competition and an equal playing field.”

Photo credit: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

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