Dick Pound, the founder and former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency just wrapped up an 11-month investigation into apparent systematic doping in Russia as well as high level corruption in Russian athletics and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the governing body of the sport of track and field. The commission’s findings are of licentious, immoral and reprehensible conduct, but not new.
Systematic doping in Russia is not a new phenomenon and more damning than this report is the notion that it took an investigative journalist’s work from ARD Television in Germany, Mr. Hajo Seppelt, to motivate the authorities to create the Independent Commission’s investigation, after decades of cheating that was obvious.
Russian doping is deep-rooted, culturally-embedded and is criminal in its Mafia-like operation, which makes it completely different than the free-will nature of doping by competitive athletes from other nations who seek an edge. And it was that seldom found free will of a few Russian athletes who wanted out and spoke to Seppelt about the Russian doping regime that got the ball rolling.
The Independent Commission (IC) of Pound, fellow Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren and Gunter Younger, an international cyber investigator from Germany, recommended today to the IAAF to suspend Russia from competition. They also recommend to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to suspend Russia from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games for the purpose of giving them the time to correct what is wrong with sport in Russia.
These recommendations, among others, are brand new territory. The findings are, according to Pound, “worse than we thought,” and “residue of the old Soviet Union system.”
Russia is mired deep in a culture of cheating and corruption. I don’t know how an eight-month suspension from the Olympics and one year and eight month ban from the next IAAF World Track and Field Championships could possibly be enough time to create a cultural shift. Additionally, there is science that points to the long-term benefits of performance enhancing drug usage, even after the usage ends. If Russian athletes (apparently 90-99% of them) are to compete in the future, they may perform with the benefit of past doping.
In November of 1986 former Red Army hockey player who went on to star in the National Hockey League, Igor Larionov, wrote in his autobiography, “The Front Line Rebels” that Soviet hockey players and laboratory workers conspired to deceive drug testers at the 1986 World Championships in Moscow by hiding urine specimens behind toilets. He also wrote that players received injections for products that were unknown to them. Larionov was especially critical of Head Coach Viktor Tikhonov, who apparently demanded the athletes inject if they wanted to play. Larionov and a few teammates refused.
The Moscow Times in 2013 wrote, “Two months before the start of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the suspension of an unreliable Russian anti-doping lab by the World Anti-Doping Agency has served as a reminder of the country’s checkered history when it comes to addressing the use of performance-enhancing drugs by its athletes.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, set a deadline of April 1, 2014 for Moscow’s Anti-Doping Center, which was to complete more than 2,000 tests for the Olympics at a satellite location in Sochi, to implement reforms designed to improve the reliability of its testing.”
They added, “Judging by historical evidence and testing records, problems with doping have been the norm in Russia and the Soviet Union for decades.”
Swim Vortex wrote in 2013, “FINA reports: On March 3, 2013, a swimmer Nikita Maksimov (RUS) was tested positive to the substance Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone/ Oral-Turinabol (Class S.1.1.a Exogenous Anabolic Androgenic Steroids) following an out-of-competition doping control test conducted in Krugloe (RUS). The Russian Swimming Federation imposed a sanction of 2 years’ ineligibility on the athlete starting on April 4, 2013.”
The drug that she was provided with is at the heart of the claims from former East German athletes who suffered serious health problems.
Dr. Rainer Hartwich, director of clinical research at VEB Jenapharm during communist times but no longer with the company said in an interview, “The plan was not to develop the drug (Oral-Turinabol) into a medication for normal use. The interest in it would have been much bigger and we would have had to have published the data and clinical research for the central advisory board of the GDR that was not desired in our aim to keep it a secret.”
But is goes back farther than communist Russia and East Germany.
As far back as 1889, performance enhancing drugs were used by athletes seeking an edge. Hall of Fame Major League Baseball Player, Pud Gavin injected a product known as Brown-Sequard Elixir. The elixir contained traces of the yet unknown androgenic steroids. He was the first known athlete to inject a performance enhancing drug.
Anabolic steroid use and development continued through the 1930s and into World War 2 with the Nazis (here is another reason to hate them) as well as post-war with the west-coast body building culture starting in the mid-1940s.
In 1967 the textbook “Androgens and Anabolic Agents: Chemistry and Pharmacology” was published by Julius Vida. It became the reference guide for doctors and chemists who sought to benefit from creating steroids for illegal purposes.
During the 1960 Rome Olympic Games the entire American weightlifting team was given Dianabol; the most widely used anabolic steroid in history. Its development and popularity can be attributed in part to the 1950s west coast body building culture.
During the 1960s the San Diego Chargers were using anabolic steroids. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Bob Waters admitted being prescribed Dianabol by team physician Dr. Lloyd Millburn as early as 1962.
In 1972, A top secret 39-page Russian doping report entitled “Anabolic Steroids and Sport Capacity” published by the State Institute of Physical Culture in Moscow. It confirmed and provided a rare glimpse into the ongoing state-sponsored research into performance-enhancement drugs during this period.
Forty-three years have passed, why the apathy?
The Russians and all other cheaters have not only Pud Gavin to thank for the popularity of anabolic steroids, they should pay homage to the former East German state who were likely the first and certainly the most active in systematic doping.
Doping in Russia does indeed appear to be systematic; it cuts through the nation from the athletes to the coaches and agents, governing bodies, law enforcement, anti-doping agency and into the accredited Moscow laboratory that was to be used to test for performance enhancing drugs.
The system is essentially a mafia-like operation.
The director of that laboratory, Grigory Rodchenko was specifically identified as an aider and abettor of doping activities. WADA recommends that Rodchenko be removed immediately and that the lab to lose its accreditation.
The IC has recommended that the IAAF suspend ARAF, the All-Russian Athletics Federation; their governing body.
The IC’s report also indicates the presence of Russian law enforcement agencies in the Moscow lab and that they were involved in the efforts to interfere with the integrity of the samples, creating “an atmosphere of intimidation.”
Pound wrote, “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.”
And this is why Russia should be banned, at least until they can demonstrate a cultural shift, but it will take more than just one to two years to erase decades of behavior. A long-term suspension will be a demonstration to everyone, athletes, coaches, doctors, labs, governing bodies and national anti-doping agencies that doping will not be tolerated. Banning Russia should be considered the beginning of the process to clean up competitive sports, a precedent for all other sports to follow.
*Some information quoted from “The Amazing History of anabolic steroids in sport”.