Earlier this month, German TV program “Das Erste” ran a documentary alleging an extensive and systematic doping program being run in Russia. The documentary has made waves internationally, and now has the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) looking into its allegations.
The documentary, broadcast by TV station ZDF/ARD on December 3rd, focuses on Vitaly Stepanov, a former worker with RUSADA, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency. Stepanov’s wife is Yuliya Stepanova, formerly Yuliya Rusanova, one of the world’s best 800 meter runners who is currently serving a two-year suspension for doping.
Stepanov and Stepanova are the major whistleblowers on the story, giving their combined perspectives from both sides of the doping problem – from outside overseers like RUSADA and from within the high-level athletic establishment. The couple and their child have now fled Russia and are in hiding, fearing the consequences of speaking out, according to Britain’s The Sunday Times.
The documentary, titled “Top-Secret Doping: How Russia makes its Winners,” was put together by German journalist Hajo Seppelt.
ZDF/ARD has released a full transcript of the documentary translated into English. You can read the full version here.
Just some of the major allegations it includes:
- Seppelt describes an organized system in Russian athletics wherein the athletes allegedly paid officials fees and percentages of their winnings in exchange for banned substances and protection from being drug tested.
- Stepanova claims athletes occasionally lived under fake names while on training trips to prevent foreign doping control officers from finding and testing them.
- Seppelt tests a claim by the couple while he is in Russia and finds he is able to order prescription-only EPO injections over the phone. The injections are delivered right to him and he is never asked for a prescription.
- Seppelt also includes some direct audio recordings of Russian coaches talking their athletes into taking banned supplements. One of the more notable exchanges includes a female athlete asking “They are banned substances?” to which her coach responds “Don’t say that, call them a special kind of preparation.”
- Russian discus thrower Evgenia Pecherina, who is serving a 10-year doping ban, says she suspects that 99% of Russia’s National Team athletes are doping in some form or another.
Stepanova is a track and field athlete, and most of the allegations in the documentary seem aimed at that sport and at various Winter Olympic sports, after Russia led the gold medal count at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
However, the documentary does allege that swimming is involved in the scandal as well.
Stepanova describes her meeting with a high-ranking Russian athletics official named Sergey Portugalov, who she says gave her banned substances directly and helped her avoid being caught in exchange for a percentage of her winnings. Stepanova’s full quote:
“I’ve seen coaches and athletes from other sports in the queue. And he [Portugalov] also told me himself, how he prepared nordic skiers, walkers, 400 meter runners and other girls from our national team. Swimming coaches were also present. These people who I saw there, among them were also winners and medal winners from European and World Championships.”
-Yuliya Stepanova (Rusanova)
Stepanov, the former Rusada worker, alleges that Russian officials would call Rusada to find out the name attached to a positive doping test, and if the athlete was a big name or a medal hopeful, the test would eventually be thrown out or not reported.
Stepanov lists the sports he claims were guilty of shielding their athletes from drug testing:
“In Swimming, Cycling, Biathlon, Athletics, Weight Lifting, Nordic Skiing.”
Rusada has responded to the criticism. Director Nikita Kamaev claims that the allegations of misconduct are coming from athletes who have already violated doping laws, and says those are the types of people liable to “turn to journalists and tell stories.”
“For professionals, these stories are simply laughable,” he says.
The documentary is significant to the sport of swimming because of the string of high-profile doping bans handed out to Russian swimmer over the past year, most notably to Yuliya Efimova, who was suspended for 16 months and stripped of several medals and World Records.
The details surrounding Efimova’s suspension could support the documentary’s allegations, but could also be quite unrelated. It’s worth noting that Efimova trained in the United States, and claimed she unknowingly took a banned substance after a GNC employee mistakenly informed her that a supplement was legal, a claim that FINA (the world’s swimming federation) found to be credible.
That’s far from a systematic scandal carried out by a national swimming federation. However, it’s also worth pointing out that Efimova failed a drug test carried out by FINA and WADA while not failing any test administered by Rusada, Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency, against whom most of the documentary’s accusations are leveled.
This week, Seppelt has said that the release of his documentary set off a wave of sources sending him additional inside information on the subject. EuroSport and others have reported that Seppelt is now planning to produce a second documentary and perhaps even more of them based on the new information.
Once again, the full English transcript of the documentary is here. You can read more about the documentary and its fallout on EuroNews.com here or CNN.com here.