Russia’s suitability to host the World Athletics Championships next month and the Winter Olympics in February has been plunged into doubt by allegations that Russian athletes are doping under instruction from coaches and are assisted by cover-ups at the country’s main anti-doping laboratory.
The claims centre on the lab which will handle samples taken at the world athletics showpiece in Moscow from August 10-18 and the 2014 Sochi Games between February 7-23.
Top-class athletes including Jess Ennis, Mo Farah and Usain Bolt will descend on Russia to take part in the biggest global track and field event, while Sochi will host the largest gathering of international sports talent since London 2012.
Any suggestion that anti-doping procedures are being mishandled will be of serious concern to participants worldwide.
A Mail On Sunday investigation has established that the boss of the key laboratory was arrested and questioned on suspicion of sourcing and selling banned drugs.
Director Grigory Rodchenkov, 54, was released without charge or public explanation and is back running the lab — but his sister was convicted and jailed in December 2012 for buying and possessing banned drugs, with the intention of supplying them to athletes.
Russian athletes, coaches and support staff have alleged corruption at the lab, including test rigging. They claim to be fed up with corruption within their own system and have made concerns known privately to the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The Mail on Sunday has seen correspondence that whistleblowers claim has been sent to WADA, including by one Russian athlete who won a medal at last summer’s London Olympic Games. WADA will not comment on individual cases, but have confirmed they have received information from ‘informants’ about the situation.
‘WADA receives information on a regular basis from “informants” globally,’ said a spokeswoman. ‘Over recent years, this has included individuals with information about Russia and Russian athletes.’
She added: ‘In every situation, we undertake appropriate enquiries to learn more before passing on any information to those who may have an appropriate mandate to deal with it. We cannot comment on specific cases as they may be subject to further and current investigation by others.’
Sources claim some of those who have sought to expose alleged corruption have been threatened with retribution from the Russian government if they go public.
Russia are desperate to protect their international reputation ahead of the two major events they are hosting in the next seven months. But in an echo of the Soviet era, it is alleged athletes were encouraged to pay for doping assistance which would also guarantee clean tests would pass through the Moscow lab.
One former coach, Oleg Popov, said he attended an Olympic preparation camp in 2008 with one of his athletes, javelin thrower Lada Chernova.
‘The officials said you have to prepare with doping,’ claimed Popov. ‘Everyone had to go to [name withheld] and he was saying how the athlete had to prepare, what doping to take. They told me: “You have to pay 50,000 roubles for the preparation. If you pay she’ll get prepared”.’
Popov has written letters to WADA and Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko and claims athletes are faced with ‘dead-end conditions’, given little choice but to subscribe to a programme of doping. ‘Not only does an athlete have to take illegal drugs, he also has to pay money in our anti-doping laboratory for substituting the samples,’ said Popov.
‘The essence of their plan is that the laboratory takes care of the pharmacological support of the team and hides the fact that the team are being prepared for competition using forbidden drugs.’
Chernova, no longer coached by Popov, had a positive drug finding and subsequent ban overturned by a court last year. Her lawyer, Alexander Chebotarev, has told The Mail on Sunday this was because they proved ‘grave mistakes’ were made at the lab, including a fake signature on paperwork.
Chebotarev represents several Russian sporting clients who allege malpractice or errors by the laboratory, which he claims cannot be trusted to handle the Winter Olympics.
He told The Mail on Sunday: ‘From what I saw, I would not 100 per cent trust them because there’s many violations that we see. And it’s not just my opinion, it is clearly stated as fact in the documents that I had to deal with.’
Another athlete, 400metre runner Valentin Krugliakov, was banned from attending the London Olympics, despite having achieved the qualifying standard. Krugliakov says he was told that this was because he had tested positive for drugs, though he was not given details.
After Krugliakov spent a large part of the past year trying to establish what substance had caused him to fail a test, he was notified last week by RUSADA that he had not, in fact, failed any test last summer.
Krugliakov claims some doping athletes with ‘falsely clean’ tests went to London while others, including him, did not fail tests but were prevented from doing so.
Having been falsely told last summer he had failed a test, Krugliakov was also told in March he had failed another test in February. He is contesting this.
‘When it [last summer’s supposedly failed test] all happened, another member of the team asked me whether I was paying this money [for being given doping products and assistance with clean samples],’ he claims. ‘I said “No”. They asked me why I didn’t pay as they pay every year. I said: “No one told me”. Maybe if I had paid the money it would have saved me.’
The full official title of the laboratory, based in Moscow, is The Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise Anti-Doping Centre. Known as the Anti-Doping Centre Moscow, it is the only WADA-accredited laboratory in Russia and there is no other facility in the country that could handle the World Championships or Olympics.
Some 2,500 samples are to be tested by the lab — at a satellite location — during Sochi 2014. The testing is carried out under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee, who confirmed that testing ‘will be run by the director and staff from the Moscow laboratory’.
The IOC manage drug-testing at all Games, in conjunction with WADA-accredited labs. At the London Olympics, they used the lab at King’s College to conduct about 6,000 tests. Local anti-doping agencies such as UKAD, in the UK, and RUSADA are not directly involved with Games testing, though they provide logistical support and perform tests away from accredited venues.
‘It was the same in my parents’ day,’ said Sharp. ‘But you have to hope that there are more who aren’t doping than who are. It definitely crossed my mind a couple of times — what’s the point in doing this if that’s what I’m up against?’
Britain’s Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford also questioned the wisdom of holding the World Championships in Russia, stating that the country ‘clearly has a problem’.
Details of lab boss Rodchenkov’s arrest and the prosecution of his sister may leave British athletes with even less faith.
Documents and court records seen by The Mail on Sunday show Rodchenkov was arrested and questioned in 2011 on suspicion of being part of a major operation supplying drugs that are banned for athletes. The case against him, pursued under a law that could have led to a four to eight-year sentence, is categorised as secret by Moscow court authorities. His sister Marina Rodchenkova, 51, was jailed in December 2012 for buying and possessing banned drugs that she admitted she had intended to supply to athletes.
Her brother Rodchenkov, a former athlete and respected around the world for his anti-doping work, was deeply traumatised around the time of the police investigation into his activities, according to sources, though it is unclear whether his distress was connected to the case. It is claimed he attempted suicide and spent at least two months in a Russian psychiatric hospital.
Yet, he is now back in charge of the laboratory, apparently cleared of wrongdoing, though there is no official confirmation that the investigation into allegations against him has concluded. Rodchenkov has not responded to the multiple written requests or telephone calls for a comment.
RUSADA and the laboratory also declined to comment, redirecting calls to the Ministry of Sport, who said they ‘find it impossible to comment on Mr Grigory Rodchenkov’s private life’ and refused to elaborate on any aspect of the case.
The IOC said they had no knowledge of any investigation into Rodchenkov.
When The Mail on Sunday provided details of the investigation into Rodchenkov, including a case number as logged in Moscow court records, an IOC spokeswoman said: ‘Thank you for sharing with us this information. We have passed it on internally to the relevant people.’
Over the course of The Mail On Sunday’s investigation, worrying attitudes towards the use of performance enhancing drugs in Russia have been uncovered.
An official for a major Russian sporting federation, a former international competitor, spoke to us under condition of anonymity and admitted taking drugs throughout his career. He even spoke of his regret that ‘Russia are behind the rest of the world in the development of the substances that could affect the results’.
He added: ‘Russians are still taking anabolics that were developed in the GDR in the 1970s. Every sportsman takes doping at the early stages as they are not tested until they become grown-ups.
‘Believe me, you won’t hear about a single doping scandal involving Russians during the [Sochi] Olympics. Everything will be done so that Russia will definitely get the most medals.’
But an IOC spokesman insisted: ‘Anti-doping measures in Russia have improved significantly over the last five years with an effective, efficient and new [RUSADA] laboratory and equipment in Moscow.
‘There will be at least 20 international experts working in labs throughout the time of the Games to ensure the very best methods and practices, the best expertise, and to enable the lab to process the uniquely large number of samples.
‘In addition, there will be three lab experts in the IOC Games Group whose specific task will be to oversee and guarantee the integrity of all processes of analyses and reporting to the IOC.’