The Russian Olympics Scandal Widens

The Times of London reports:

AN UNKNOWN official in the Moscow visa office is now a prime suspect in a conspiracy to tip off leading Russian athletes that foreign testers were about to swoop on their training camps, in the murkiest drugs scandal since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

International sports officials are now monitoring the investigation by the Russian Athletics Federation that seven elite competitors, including Yelena Soboleva, the world indoor 1,500m champion, are alleged to have manipulated their samples by repeatedly using untainted urine belonging to other people. The row has split the Russian administration with the country’s sports minister, Vyacheslav Fetisov, being accused by his own Olympic Committee of being a “traitor” for not warning officials of the accusations, so that the competitors could have been withdrawn earlier from the Games. All seven athletes were only pulled out last week, as have been three top race-walkers, who last week had positive findings for the stamina-boosting erythropoietin (EPO).

The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), who laid the trap for the seven competitors, has asked the Russian Federation to conduct its own inquiry and will decide whether the report is sufficiently thorough and far-reaching. It will want to know how the Russian athletes seemed to know the dates when they were being targeted for out-of-competition tests, with sources saying that suspicion is falling on the visa application office in Moscow.

The IAAF is also eager to discover whether there has been a state programme of doping, recalling the days of the 30 years leading up to 1990, when communist countries such as the Soviet Union and East Germany were riddled with either state controlled or state-permitted drug-taking.

Professor Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IOC’s Medical Commission, said that this was a case of “systematic doping” and, under the rules of the World AntiDoping Agency (Wada), the competitors now face a four-year ban if found guilty. The Russian Olympic Committee, furious that its final preparations have been ruined by the scandal, has rounded on Fetisov, a retired ice-hockey star, who is also the head of the Wada’s Athletes Commission. Its spokesman Gennady Shvets said: “Fetisov could have known everything. He should have been informed, warning of any kind of violation. We saw nothing of the kind.”

The IAAF’s trap started with its suspicions that whenever foreign sampling officers visited the country for out-of-competition tests, the competitors they were seeking were always immediately available. The IAAF therefore stored the samples after the testing had cleared the competitors and then subjected them to DNA testing. It is alleged that in Soboleva’s case on the five occasions that she submitted urine specimens, the DNA testing showed that they came from different people each time.

The IAAF then informed the Russians and suspended Soboleva and other compatriots, including Tatyana Tomashova, the double world 1,500m champion, and Olga Yegorova, the 2001 world 5,000m champion, who was the target of a placard protest by Paula Radcliffe at those championships, because the Russian had escaped from being banned on a technicality for taking EPO.

Five days ago, the Russians suffered further blows when two race walkers Vladimir Kanaykin, the 20km world record-holder, and Alexei Voyevodin, a 50km bronze medallist in Athens, both tested positive for EPO.

Russian walkers are accused of systemmatic cheating.

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