Paris (AP) – Three weeks before the world championships, athletics was thrown into turmoil by new accusations of widespread doping and experts denouncing an anti-doping system compromised by leniency.
The World Anti-Doping Agency responded to the “wild allegations” made by two European media outlets of suspicious drug tests in athletics by asking an independent body to investigate.
WADA President Craig Reedie said Sunday he was surprised by the scale of the allegations, including that one-third of medals in endurance races at the Olympics and world championships over a 10-year period were won by athletes who recorded suspicious doping tests.
This Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013 file photo shows Russia’s Elena Lashmanova as she crosses the finish line to win the women’s 20 kilometer race walk final at the World Athletics Championships in the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. Russia said last month it has withdrawn its world-beating team of race-walkers from all international competitions to avoid “disgrace” in the wake of a series of doping allegations. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)
German broadcaster ARD and The Sunday Times newspaper in Britain said they obtained access to the results of 12,000 blood tests from 5,000 athletes. The files came from the database of the International Association of Athletics Federations and were leaked by a whistleblower, according to the reports.
Anti-doping scientist Robin Parisotto, who reviewed the data from the period covering 2001 to 2012 with blood doping expert Michael Ashenden, was critical of the federation, saying many athletes appeared to “have doped with impunity, and it is damning that the IAAF appears to have idly sat by and let this happen.”
The IAAF and WADA were already investigating accusations made in two previous ARD documentaries of alleged systematic doping and cover-ups in Russia.
Reedie said the material from the new ARD program and The Sunday Times would be turned over immediately to WADA’s independent commission for investigation.
“These are wild allegations, wide allegations, and we’ll have to check them out and we’ll have done that by the commission as quickly as possible,” Reedie said in Kuala Lumpur, where he was attending International Olympic Committee meetings.
Sebastian Coe, the former head of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games who will bid to become the next IAAF president later this month, said the federation is taking the accusations very seriously and “will issue a robust and detailed response to them and continue to work closely, as it has always done, with WADA.”
IAAF vice president Sergei Bubka, who is also running to replace Lamine Diack, echoed the sentiment.
“Everyone should know – there is no space for cheaters, not in athletics, not in other sport, not in the Olympic Movement. The IAAF position is always zero-tolerance for doping,” said Bubka, who also sits on the IOC executive board.
The ARD program, called “Doping Top Secret: The Shadowy World of Athletics,” was broadcast three weeks before the world championships in Beijing, which run from Aug. 22-30.
Parisotto and Ashenden reported that 800 athletes, competing in disciplines ranging from the 800 meters to the marathon, registered blood values that are considered suspicious under WADA standards.
The report found that 146 medals – including 55 golds – in those disciplines at the Olympics and world championships were won by athletes who have recorded suspicious tests. None of the athletes have been stripped of those medals, according to the report.
The Sunday Times also said that 10 medals at the 2012 London Olympics were won by athletes with suspicious results, and that in some finals every athlete in the medal positions had recorded a dubious blood test.
The reports also alleged that more than 80 of Russia’s medals were won by athletes with suspicious tests, while Kenya had 18 medals won by suspicious athletes. ARD said it has evidence of human growth hormone being used by Russian runners.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko suggested there was an ulterior motive to the allegations and Athletics Kenya said it was considering legal action against ARD and The Sunday Times.
“Clearly some people are trying to destroy athletics by putting out films like this. But in any case, you can’t base accusations on films,” Mutko said in comments reported by the Tass news agency.
He added that Saturday’s documentary “is not so much a blow to Russia as a blow to the IAAF.”
Parisotto and Ashenden compared IAAF’s current doping problems with those faced by professional cycling 20 years ago – in an era when the use of the blood-booster EPO was widespread – underlining that some athletes’ blood values were “life-threatening.”
“If it is true there was a spate of deaths in professional cycling, when EPO first appeared during the early 1990s, then I worry there may have been a larger hidden trail of death in athletics,” Ashenden said.
The IAAF said it was aware of “serious allegations made against the integrity and competence of its anti-doping program.”
“They are largely based on analysis of an IAAF data base of private and confidential medical data which has been obtained without consent,” the federation said, adding that it reserves the right to take action to “protect the rights of the IAAF and its athletes.”
The IOC was also aware of the accusations.
“It’s up to the WADA commission to gather evidence,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “We have full confidence in them.”
The president of the European athletics federation, Svein Arne Hansen, said the allegations “are a cause for deep dismay and yet another indication of how much we as a sport still have to do to ensure that athletics is free of doping and seen to be fair and clean.”