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On Wednesday, December 16, a Russian court ruled that German broadcaster ARD TV’s documentary, which accused the Russians of systematically doping their athletes was based on inaccurate information. The Moscow-based court ordered ARD to pay a fine of approximately 35 euros.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) assigned former WADA President Dick Pound to investigate the governing body, All-Russia Athletics Federation (ARAF). After approximately 10 months of investigations, the Independent Commission recommended that ARAF be sanctioned from competition.
The film, first shown in December 2014, caused international outrage, which led to the investigation. The documentary also led to the suspension of several Russian athletes including a marathon runner, middle-distance runners and race-walkers.
Hajo Seppelt, the journalist who exposed widespread doping in Russia as well as doping in Kenya in an earlier documentary, told Athletics Illustrated, “The WADA Independent Commission had all the evidence and viewed all original audios and videos which the Stepanovs had recorded. The Moscow based court viewed nothing. It was interesting to learn, that a court in Russia can take a decision based on complete ignorance of the facts.”
Seppelt’s documentary, “How Russia Makes Champions” used secret recordings obtained by the Russian middle-distance runner Yulia Stepanova and her husband Vitaly as a centerpiece to the Russian story.
The IAAF, under an initially reluctant President Lord Sebastion Coe, suspended Russia. In November, the ARAF was provided with a list of criteria to follow, in order to be reinstated. The list was made public and is posted at www.iaaf.org.
With this court decision we can see, by an alarming degree the third estate, the judiciary, has lost its independence.
The fine at just 36 euros is a symbolic gesture to demonstrate that the Russians do not agree with the suspension. They are currently building a case to appeal the suspension so that Russian athletes can compete in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, just eight months away.
“Since more than a year I can see how the vast majority of the Russian media – particularly the ones who are state run – are misleading the Russian public and creating weird conspiracy theories. It is a shame for journalism. They are the only ones in the world, who ignore almost all facts and prefer to call the courageous whistleblowers ‘traitors’, shared Seppelt. “The so-called fourth estate in a society should be the media. In Russia they have almost lost all critical power. With this court decision we can see, by an alarming degree the third estate, the judiciary, has lost its independence.”
The President of the ARAF, Valentin Balakhnichev resigned his role as IAAF Treasurer as the IC’s investigation concluded. Among the allegations was that Liliya Shobukhova, the second fastest marathoner in history, paid $450,000 to ARAF to avoid a doping ban, which of course is extortion and or bribery. Shobukhova is currently serving a two-year sanction and her performances dating back to 2009 have been annulled. Also under Balakhnichev’s watch is the Saransk based program, which is led by Viktor Chegin, who has had at least 18 of his athletes banned for doping offenses, including Olympic and world champions Elena Lashmanova and Valeriy Borchin.
Seppelt added, “Mr. Balakhnichev is quoted saying that now the Russian law allows him to say that all the information in this film is a lie. At the same time there is overwhelming evidence that he was – at the very least – aware of a huge doping cover up system in Russia and IAAF. Our film has presented the indisputable proof with his name included. Currently the IAAF Ethics Commission is investigating him – it is believed he had done more actually, potentially as a leading part of this cover up system. Don’t forget his position as IAAF treasurer at that time.
Even his fellow officials in Russia and IAAF forced him to resign. Balakhnichev has already a hard time. On one hand I can understand that he is trying desperately to clear his name. On the other hand his strategy is just pitiful.”
Russian officials are facing lifetime bans, which include Balaknichev, ARAF Head Coach Alexi Melnikov and Gabriel Dolle, who was the most senior anti-doping official in the IAAF. Papa Massata Diack is also under investigation for covering up positive doping tests as well as for bribery in awarding the 2019 IAAF World Track and Field Championships to Doha, Qatar. He is the son of the former president of the IAAF, Lamine Diack who is also under investigation.