Interview: Vitaliy and Yuliya Stepanov – Russian Whistleblowers

December 20, 2015 1

Stepanovs_FlashSee ARD TV’s Sportschau Video interview, here>>

Written version below, translated:

On the way to visit Vitaliy and Yuliya Stepanov, the Russian whistleblowers that changed sport history in 2015. For security reasons we are not allowed to talk about which country they are staying in or their location.

Just over a year ago they realized that they were no longer safe in Russia after making their revelations about doping. Together with their little boy Robert they were forced to leave their homeland. The Stepanovs had touched a nerve of an entire sporting nation.

For about a year the family lives hidden away, in hotels or in apartments under an assumed name, initially in Germany, later somewhere else. It is a life of constant uncertainty.

Vitaliy: “In the past year we have moved seven times. It is somewhat exhausting. But we are hoping that we will soon be able to settle somewhere”.

Hajo Seppelt: “But having to constantly hide with the whole family. How is that for you, Yuliya?”

Yuliya: “We have not even told our parents where we are in the world. They do not know. And here, where we are now, luckily no one asks us about who we are. And no one wants to know from us, where we come from”.

On the other hand, in the sports world, her name has long since become well-known. The couple, in the meantime are the most famous whistleblowers in sport, have exposed, especially with secretly recorded videos and audios, a huge fraud scheme in Russia. Because of it, Russia’s athletes have been suspended,and Russia’s exclusion from the Olympics in 2016 is threatened.

“We recommend that the Russian Federation is suspended in 2016”.

The Stepanovs: He, the former employee of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, his wife, world-class runner who herself had previously doped.

Yuliya: “If I had not experienced that for myself, I would never be able to talk about it. No one would have learnt about this system”.

Vitaliy: “Thank God that there are people that care about the truth.”

Yuliya: “We are breaking new ground in the sport, we are pioneers in whistle-blowing so to speak. This could motivate others. But unfortunately in sport there is still no witness protection programme. Therefore, at present there is hardly an athlete who wants to tell the truth”.

Vitaliy: “All the officials in the Russian Athletics Federation all know that there is huge steroids abuse by top level athletes. So actually the situation is a lot worse than it could be shown in the television documentary”.

Seppelt: “Yuliya, Do you regret anything that you did as a whistleblower?”

Yuliya: “I have no regrets about anything I’ve done. I only really regret that I could not provide even more evidence. That’s all that I regret”.

Several Russians unmasked as users of doping, sanctions against athletes, coaches and various sports and anti-doping institutions in Russia. A whole wave of resignations by officials. In Russia there are nevertheless still hopes about a start at the 2016 Olympics.

Vitaliy: “My personal view is: If the IOC allows the Russian athletics federation to compete in Rio, that would be unfair to the athletes from around the world. For decades, the Russians have broken the rules, knowingly, have lied to the IOC, to athletes from different parts of the world. And now they even turn that all around and make it sound that they are the good ones, they are the victims. They are not victims. They must be punished, there must be justice”.

The Stepanovs could, so they say, contribute a great deal more to the clarification of the doping question – if the international sports organizations wanted this. They have offered to provide their help. In particular, the world athletics governing body IAAF with its President Sebastian Coe and the International Olympic Committee with the German Thomas Bach at the top, could benefit from the insider knowledge of the Stepanovs. But do they want it?

Seppelt: “Has IAAF President Coe ever tried to contact you in order to talk to you?”

Vitaliy: “So far no.”

Seppelt: “Has the IOC tried to contact you?”

Vitaliy: “So far no.”

Seppelt: “Is it understandable?”

Vitaliy: “Yes. They are busy people. We are a little family and try to help to fight doping. But obviously these people have bigger things to deal with.”

Since Russia’s athletes are currently suspended, the suspension now also applies to Yuliya Stepanova. Training for an uncertain future. No country worldwide up to now that is prepared to officially accept the family. The Stepanovs are isolated – a life far away from their homeland and in hiding. No job, hardly any money, no prospects. But family happiness at the end of a emotionally moving year.

Vitaliy: “I obviously hope that maybe there is a job for me in the anti-doping world or in sports world, but so far nobody is interested. Some nights we talk about the situation, it is really not that easy. We have been able to save a little bit. We’ll find a way to survive”.

Yuliya: “My wish for the future is that we can finally find a permanent place for us and can live a normal life. That our son can go to kindergarten, I can train without having to be afraid to face any people. And I no longer have to hide. And that Vitaliy has a job, so that we can lead a quiet life as a really normal family”.

The Stepanovs; A Russian family in exile. A family that wrote sporting history in 2015.

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