© Copyright – 2023 – Athletics Illustrated

Remember Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya and the drama from the 2020 (2021) Tokyo Olympic Games? She was taken to the Tokyo airport against her will.

The 24-year-old was forced to miss the Olympic 200m race on Monday, August 2, 2021. She alleged that Belarusian officials attempted to forcibly make her leave without her consent. Although stripped of their accreditation, coaches Yuri Moisevich and Artur Shumak, were still able to have contact with Belarusian athletes. The IOC, Athletics Integrity Unit and World Athletics investigated the issue.

In Tokyo, during a Warsaw news conference, Tsimanouskaya said she was told to pack her bags after she posted a message on social media criticising the way her team was being managed. She said team officials told her to say she was injured and had to go home early.

She spoke briefly to her grandmother, who said there was a massive backlash against her in the media in Belarus, including reports that she was mentally ill. Her grandmother advised her not to return. Her parents suggested she could go to Poland. 

Tsimanouskaya went to Warsaw after being granted a humanitarian visa by the country. There, she met with her family. Since then, the coaches have been suspended.

World Athletics grant Tsimanouskaya permission to represent Poland

The exiled Belarusian has been cleared to compete for Poland two years on from the dramatic events of Tokyo. She received a humanitarian visa from Poland and is now a Polish citizen.

World Athletics rules require an athlete to undergo a three-year waiting period to change their national allegiance at its competitions, but the Nationality Review Panel agreed to waive this in Tsimanouskaya’s case.

“The National Review Panel agreed to waive the three-year waiting period starting from the date of application on June 12, 2023 on the basis that the athlete last represented Belarus on July 30 2021, at the Olympic Games, Tokyo, and that the athlete has not competed in national representative competitions for two years,” Reuters reported.

Tsimanouskaya claimed earlier this year she had received zero support from the IOC since Tokyo 2020, but it insisted she had been supported by “the Olympic Movement, represented by the Polish National Olympic Committee and the Polish Athletics Federation”.

The Olympic Charter requires athletes to wait three years since they last represented their former country to participate for their new country at an Olympic Games, although the IOC Executive Board can “take all decisions of a general or individual nature with regard to issues resulting from nationality, citizenship, domicile or residence of any competitor”.

Belarus and Russia continue to serve suspensions

Although Thomas Bach, the IOC president has tried to sway the public into agreeing that allow Russia and Belarus to compete in international competition, no one is buying the plea.

The two countries have been recently banned due to the illegal incursion on Ukraine.

They are also banned for supporting systematic doping. In the process of trying to be reinstated from the doping suspension, the countries have performed a comedy of errors, including the hiring and firing and “retirement” of officials and administration. There continues to be the covering up of doping cases, continued positive tests and a veritable Keystone Kops of embarrassment.

After a series of salacious systematic doping and coverup allegations, Russia and Belarus were served a national ban in 2015. Many of them were proven after an investigation by a special team assigned by the World Anti-doping Agency. There was data manipulation, extortion, bribery, and apparent money laundering. During the ban, a long series of failures and manipulation has continued unabated. Russia in 2023 is no different than it was in 2014.

Since the Russian incursion on Ukraine, the world’s largest nation has gone from persona non grata to status invisus — hated, globally.

The athletics crisis in Russia

Doping was described in great detail in the book The Rodchenkov Affair, written by Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov who was a primary and central figure in covering up doping in Sochi during the Winter Olympics and before and after those Games.

Further to that, there is the book, the Russian Affair, by whistleblower by Vitaly Stepanov, a former anti-doping officer, and award-winning author David Walsh. Both Russians — Stepanov and Rodchenkov — are in exile in the US.

It wasn’t enough that the Oscar-winning documentary Icarus illustrated the doping issues or that German broadcaster ARD TV and the fine work of investigative journalist Hajo Seppelt made it perfectly clear that doping in Russia is a way of life. Apparently, it does not matter that the Russians blocked the World Anti-doping Agency’s access to the Moscow Laboratory’s mainframe computer to manipulate data (about blood values et al).

Russia’s low point

A report by the New York Times published on May 12, 2016, indicated harrowing evidence of Russian doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games. Allegedly en masse and arranged by the Sports Ministry itself. It was Seppelt who had disclosed the systemic doping in Russian Athletics which was broadcast in three major TV documentaries in German and English.

Also, according to Reuters, Danil Lysenko, the Russian high jumper who was suspended for doping infractions, is blaming Russian officials for his doping. In 2018, he was suspended for three whereabouts failures in a 12-month span, which is equal to a doping infraction. That’s on him.

At the time, the provisional suspension of Lysenko put a strain on Russia’s attempt to gain entry back into the sport by following a number of steps as required by World Athletics — it was a step backward. Was World Athletics paying attention?

Senior Russian officials became embroiled in a scheme to forge medical documents and provide false explanations to justify Lysenko’s violations. They got caught, and they went backward some more.

“Of course, I could have said no, but I didn’t,” Lysenko, whose suspension ends in August next year, told Reuters. “I listened to the bosses and decided to do as they said.”

Russian corruption continues

Corruption continues to run rampant in Russia. News agency Tass reported that former Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) anti-doping coordinator Robert Popov was placed under house arrest in connection with an embezzlement case.

Popov, as well as former Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) deputy chairman Gennady Aleshin, were both suspected of “aiding in misappropriation or embezzlement by an organised group on an especially large scale”, TASS reported.

There doesn’t seem to be an end to the Russian doping crisis

Also in Dec. 2020 RusAF narrowly avoided permanent banishment from the sport. They had failed to pay several million dollars in fines for delaying a special WADA committee from getting access to the Moscow Laboratory mainframe computer, central to the systematic doping.

It is alleged that by mid-2020, 61 suspect doping samples had been documented by the investigative team. Allegedly many more have been since.

In June 2020, there was the resignation of the then RusAF President Yevgeny Yurchenko after just six months on the job. The reason? RusAF failed to pay a $6-million fine (of $10-million USD) owed to World Athletics.

In lieu of being expelled altogether, the fine was levied by World Athletics. This was due to a long trail of corruption to do with alleged extortion, bribe-taking, drug cover-ups, and data manipulation to name a few illegal activities that RusAF is accused of.

“I hope that the newly elected head of the All-Russian Athletics Federation will be able to move forward in resolving almost five-year difficulties in relations with World Athletics, and will also ensure that sufficient funding is raised for the development of the Federation,” Yurchnko said.

Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s Yury Ganus told TASS at the time and the Russian news agency that “all steps taken by the previous executive management at the RusAF led to the fact that Lysenko would continue performing as an athlete only after an eight-year period.”

Alexander Shustov received a four-year ban in early 2020 from the Athletics Integrity Unit, which was held up by CAS after testing positive for a banned substance.

On July 18, 2016, Canadian attorney Richard McLaren, retained by WADA to investigate Rodchenkov’s allegations, published a 97-page report covering significant state-sponsored doping in Russia.

Apparently, he was limited by a 57-day time frame, during that short window the investigation found corroborating evidence after conducting witness interviews, reviewing thousands of documents, analysis of hard drives, forensic analysis of urine sample collection bottles, and laboratory analysis of individual competitor samples, with “more evidence becoming available by the day.”

In conclusion, the report stated that it was shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Russia’s Ministry of Sport, the Centre of Sports Preparation of the National Teams of Russia, the Federal Security Service, and the WADA-accredited laboratory in Moscow had “operated for the protection of doped Russian competitors” within a “state-directed failsafe system” using “the disappearing positive methodology” (DPM) after the country’s poor medal count during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

McLaren stated that urine samples were opened in Sochi in order to swap them “without any evidence to the untrained eye.” The official producer of security bottles used for anti-doping tests, the Berlinger Group, stated, “We have no knowledge of the specifications, the methods or the procedures involved in the tests and experiments conducted by the McLaren Commission.”

According to the McLaren report, the DPM operated from “at least late 2011 to August 2015.” It was used on 643 positive samples, a number that the authors consider “only a minimum” due to limited access to Russian records. The system covered up positive results in a wide range of sports: 

Athletics (139)
Weightlifting (117)
Non-Olympic sports (37)
Paralympic sport (35)
Wrestling (28)
Canoe (27)
Cycling (26)
Skating (24)
Swimming (18)
Ice hockey (14)
Skiing (13)
Football (11)
Rowing (11)
Biathlon (10)
Bobsleigh (8)
Judo (8)
Volleyball (8)
Boxing (7)
Handball (7)
Taekwondo (6)
Fencing (4)
Triathlon (4)
Modern pentathlon (3)
Shooting (3)
Beach volleyball (2)
Curling (2)
Basketball (1)
Sailing (1)
Snowboard (1)
Table tennis (1)
Water polo (1)

There are so many more examples of corruption, doping, and coverups by the Russians that there is not enough forest on planet earth to print the reams of paper required to write the story — and it continues. The World Athletics Council needs to take a long look at the pathway and consider it years and perhaps decades into the future before reinstatement begins.

As Stepanov told Athletics Illustrated, “we don’t call it corruption in Russia, we call it, having an understanding.”