Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Doping: Russia is definitely not alone

Have you heard the one about the athletics coach who gets tipped off by his local airport whenever anti-doping staff land? Or the lab with the glaring loophole of telling young athletes the date they should show up for a drugs test weeks in advance? You hear such gossip on the grapevine all the time and often – as in the above vignettes – they don’t involve the case du jour, Russia.

What went on in Russia was extreme and probably unique: most governments simply cannot afford to run shadow laboratories or the other nefarious activities highlighted in Dick Pound’s report on Monday. But it does not mean that doping on a serious scale is not happening elsewhere.

Richard Ings, the former director of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency, offers a stark assessment. “There are too many black spots to name,” he warns. “There are countless regions of the world with threadbare testing programmes. And the majority of signatories to the World Anti-Doping Agency Code have no capability or experience in conducting complex anti-doping investigations.”

Doping is a global problem, which stretches from east to west and reels in rich and poor alike. But different countries face different issues. In Russia and some of its former satellites, there is too much government interference. In others, such as Kenya and Ethiopia, a big issue is unscrupulous doctors offering young athletes banned drugs such as EPO in exchange for 10% of their winnings.

Elsewhere certain countries or international federations pay lip service to anti-doping, perhaps by training just one person in their entire office to take tests, thus limiting how often athletes can be tested.

Frequently resources are stretched. Renee Anne Shirley, the former head of the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission (Jadco), says that things are improving in the Caribbean but Jamaica lacks the capacity to do more. “Jadco is like virtually all national anti-doping agencies concentrating on workshops for junior athletes, testing a small group of athletes in a few sports,” says Shirley, who bravely revealed that her country only did one out-of-competition test before London 2012.

“Jadco don’t have investigative capabilities to do much else. This is the state of most anti-doping globally, and, frankly, Jadco is still in the top half globally regarding its operations.”

Other countries can be too slow or too dismissive of a problem until it engulfs them. More than 40 Kenyans have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in the past two years but Evelyn Watt, the Kenyan journalist who broke the story about two of her country’s athletes failing drugs tests at the world championships, says it is only recently that things have improved.

“Athletics Kenya is now more vigilant and committed in carrying out doping reports,” she says. “The Wada investigation into Russia sent fears that the country’s runners could face similar sanctions and there is a haste within AK and the ADAK [the Kenyan Anti-Doping Agency] to jumpstart the operations.”

“There has been talk of criminalising doping and also hunting down the doctors, managers or coaches who could be involved in this. Because, as it is, no action has been taken against the managers or coaches.”

So what should be done to make the global battle against drugs in sport more successful? Professor Christiane Ayotte, the director of the Wada-approved laboratory in Quebec, says: “The first thing that needs to happen is the investigation into Russia should be extended to other countries. Wada has also asked for its budget to be extended to improve investigations, which is essential too.”

Ayotte will not be drawn on which countries should be investigated but says a good rule of thumb is to look at the Corruption Perception Index and the medal table. If a country is known for being particularly corrupt yet does well then they probably should be examined more closely.

She also does not accept the excuse that poor countries should be slipped a free pass. “Everyone should be at the same level of requirements,” she says. “There’s no minor doping. And we cannot tolerate excuses such as we are a minor country with not enough money. All of them are in the International Olympic Committee and they all receive money from the IOC.”

Another issue is that, although Wada has over 30 laboratories around the world, most are under the direction of governments, which creates a potential conflict of interest. Ings’ solution is for samples to be sent to a different country.

But perhaps change should be more fundamental. Certainly Shirley believes so. She calls for the establishment of an independent global agency to do investigations, testing and case management for all international federations.

“This should have a mandate to probe and test countries and individuals in conjunction with Interpol to make inroads into catching sophisticated dopers,” she says. In her view, expecting poorly funded national anti-doping agencies and international federations to do this work is “naive”.

Ings agrees, calling for a “root and branch rethink of the global anti-doping system as what is in place is clearly not working”. As he puts it: “An independent and centralised model for testing and investigations would pool the hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually into an effective independent anti-doping capability focusing where needed and not where just politically expedient.” And possibly begin to even out the fight against the cheats too. – © Guardian News & Media, 2015

Who’s who in the doping crisis

Sebastian Coe

The president of athletics’ world governing body, the IAAF, and who now finds himself in the eye of an almighty storm. The former Olympic champion has vowed to clean up the sport but is under scrutiny himself, given that the World Anti-doping Agency (Wada) also criticised the IAAF in its report and Coe was the vice-president of the organisation from 2007 until his appointment to the top job earlier this year.

Lamine Diack

Coe’s predecessor who is being investigated by French police in connection with the allegations of widespread doping of Russian athletes. He is being investigated for alleged corruption and money laundering and is suspected of taking around €1-million from the All-Russia Athletics Federation to cover up positive doping tests.

Papa Diack

Lamine Diack’s son. He stepped down from his role as an IAAF marketing consultant with exclusive rights to sell sponsorship in developing regions in December last year following the initial allegations of doping by Russian athletes.

Dr Gabriel Dollé

Another of the IAAF officials being investigated by French police. Dollé is the former director of the governing body’s medical and anti-doping department. He left the IAAF last December after being questioned by its ethics committee.

Vitaly Mutko

Russia’s sports minister and therefore a man who is central to Wada’s belief that the doping of athletes in the country has been state-supported.

Grigory Rodchenkov

Director of Moscow’s official anti-doping laboratory. He is accused of destroying 1?417 test samples before a Wada inspection and of regularly meeting officers from the FSB, Russia’s internal security services, to discuss the “mood” of the organisation.

Valentin Balakhnichev

Former president of Russia’s athletics federation, Araf, who quit from a post he had held for more than two decades in February following the initial allegations of doping in a German TV documentary.

Hajo Seppelt

The German journalist whose documentaries for ZDF/ARD last year lifted the lid on claims of systematic doping in Russia.

Vitaly Stepanov

Former employee of Russia’s anti-doping agency, Rusada, who blew the whistle on wrongdoing and was one of the main accusers in Seppelt’s original documentary.

Dick Pound

The former president of Wada who was brought back to chair the agency’s independent commission into systematic doping in Russia. – © Guardian News & Media, 2015

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

South Africa breaking more temperature records than expected

The country’s climate is becoming ‘more extreme’ as temperature records are broken

More top stories

US fashion contaminates Africa’s water

Untreated effluent from textile factories in in Lesotho, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius and Madagascar pours into rivers, contaminating the water

Deep seabed mining a threat to Africa’s coral reefs

The deep oceans are a fragile final frontier, largely unknown and untouched but mining companies and governments — other than those in Africa — are eying its mineral riches

Komodo dragon faces extinction

The world’s largest monitor lizard has moved up the red list for threatened species, with fewer than 4 000 of the species left

DA says ANC’s implosion has thrown local government elections wide...

The DA launched its 37-page manifesto on a virtual platform under the banner “The DA gets things done”.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…