iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A new report from the World Anti-Doping Agency has revealed that efforts to test Russian athletes rigorously for doping ahead of the Rio Olympics have run into serious difficulties, meeting with administrative obstructions from Russian agencies and encountering sometimes bizarre obstructions by athletes.
The report, published on WADA’s website Wednesday, comes just two days before a crucial vote to decide whether Russia has reformed its anti-doping procedures enough to compete at this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Among the new allegations are claims that Russian athletes had deliberately registered in closed military cities off-limits to foreigners, preventing inspectors from reaching them; that officers had been “intimidated” by security services and that Russia’s anti-doping agency’s chaotic information databases are hindering testing.
Russian officials said Wednesday that many of the issues had already been resolved and much of the blame lay with administrative errors by the British anti-doping agency collecting the tests. But the report likely hurts Russia’s chances of proving it should be allowed to go to Rio.
The report details efforts by the British anti-doping agency, UKAD, to test Russian athletes in place of Russian agencies that were stripped of their licenses after they were found to have colluded in the doping cover up that led to Russia’s potential Olympic ban. UKAD is meant to be conducting intensive testing to restore confidence that Russian athletes are clean.
But of the 1,191 tests that UKAD has attempted to take since February, it has succeeded in only doing 455. Of these 73 were not collected because athletes could not be found.
Of the over 700 other tests that the agency failed to carry out the vast majority were caused by what is described as UKAD’s “lack of capacity.” Some of that appeared to be UKAD officers’ inability to reach some areas or a shortage of staff able to cover the athletes.
But the report also describes frequent efforts by Russian athletes to obstruct doping officers from testing them, as well as widespread administrative hindrances by Russia’s anti-doping bodies.
Russia has committed to cooperating in reforming its anti-doping procedures. But the report depicts a system of administrative unhelpfulness and sometimes chaos that meant it was often impossible for doping inspectors to find athletes.
The report said that Russia’s anti-doping agency, RUSADA had in “general poor quality” information on its athletes’ whereabouts, with many addresses for them wrong. The report also said that officers had found it difficult to find competitions where they were meant to be doing tests because they were not told where they were happening or only informed a day in advance.
The report also said WADA labs had found packages transporting samples had been opened by Russian customs officers; others were missing the correct documentation.
RUSADA’s administrative problems have previously been described by WADA as suspicious, though this report does not accuse the agency of deliberate wrongdoing. Besides the administrative problems though, the report records the elaborate and sometimes farcical lengths some Russian athletes are said to go to avoid testing. Some athletes are accused of deliberately registering in so-called closed cities — towns built around military or strategic sites closed to foreigners since the Soviet-era. Anti-doping officers were therefore sometimes unable to reach the athletes or to surprise them with tests.
The report said, anti-doping officers were “intimidated” when accessing the cities, and had been threatened by “armed FSB agents” with deportation. In another case, the report said, Olympic qualifying competitions had been held in areas with “ongoing civil conflicts,” seemingly to deter officers from being sent. Other efforts were less elaborate. In one case, the report notes, an athlete was “observed running away” to avoid test officers.
In perhaps the most bizarre case, a female athlete is said to have “inserted” a container into her body, apparently containing clean urine. The container though “leaked onto the floor” whilst the athlete was standing with a doping inspector, who noted it and forced her to give another sample. It tested positive.
Russian athletes were suspended from international competition last year, after a WADA report found systemic doping among them. On Friday, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) will vote on whether to reinstate them for the Olympics. The decision hinges on Russia proving it changing attitudes to doping among its athletes.
Russian officials acknowledged today that some athletes were still seeking to cover their doping, but said the other systemic problems were being fixed. Officials said the problem of closed cities was a small one and in any case they were giving access.
The new head of Russia’s anti-doping agency, Anna Antseliovich told ABC News, that the number of athletes registered in the cities was “no more than 10-15.”
Natalya Zhelanova, the top anti-doping adviser to Russia’s ministry of sport, said that they had informed WADA of the need to request permission to the cities in December but had only begun receiving these requests in May. Zhelanova said she was only aware of one case of an inspector being unable to enter a city. Zhelanova also said that any athletes registered in closed cities ought to be retested.
Antseliovich, who was appointed to oversee the reform of RUSADA after the scandal broke, said that many of the issues were already being resolved. She said RUSADA was gathering athlete information and those not cooperating were being punished. She blamed the agency’s poor database partly on so many old staff having to be removed in the wake of the doping scandal.
She also said she could not understand the claim that officers had been unaware when competitions were happening, since RUSADA always shared whatever information they had.
Antseliovich said she hoped that the report showed that “we are working. We are changing.”
Questions about UKAD’s execution of its testing mission have been raised in the past month. The agency’s chairman, David Kenworthy, appeared before a British parliamentary committee this week.
Michele Verroken, who formerly oversaw anti-doping in Britain and was present at the hearing, said that Kenworthy had said UKAD had only succeeded in doing 50 percent of the required tests, in large part because of logistical problems, including that Russia was so large it was difficult to cover.
“I find it very, very odd,” Verroken said. “Why wouldn’t you know that from the start? Russia is a big country.”
Russia has agreed to subject its athletes to unusually intensive testing, requiring that they pass 3 to 6 tests prior to the Olympics to be eligible for them. But the blockages have put this process in some doubt. To speed up the process, Russia has created a pool of around 200 athletes, considered it best medal hopes and hired another firm, the private company IDTM to test them.
Earlier this month, Russian athletes from the pool told ABC News that many had not yet had the full number of tests. Some said they believed this was because doping officers were struggling to get round the large number of athletes requiring tests in such a short time.
Mikhail Butov, head of Russia’s track and field federation, though said that he was unaware of the problems described in the report. He said that IDTM had told him everything was going according to schedule.
“Before the Olympic Games we will complete this process,” Butov said. “I’m sure.”
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