Written by Jen Offord

Misc

Just say no

The Verve were wrong: the drugs do work – it’s just really shit if you get caught, as Russia is finding out. Jen Offord takes a look at the doping scandal affecting Mother Russia’s track and field stars.

running track

White lines… of the only type the World Anti-Doping Agency would like athletes to be chasing after.

Vladimir Putin is fast becoming one of my favourite political figures. Not because I have any time for his politics, you understand. Just because of the fascinating opportunity he presents to explore the fine line between hilarity and terror. He might be the comedic, personified mash-up of at least three Bond villains, but I definitely wouldn’t want to piss him off.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) must be shitting bricks this week, then, in the wake of doping allegations so severe they’ve resulted in Russia’s athletics team being provisionally banned from all international competition – including the 2016 Rio Olympics.

WADA (whose slogan, ‘play true’, somewhat incongruously reminds me more of a JLS-backed condom advert than the official body charged with eradicating illegal drug use in sport) launched an independent commission into allegations made in an ARD documentary, The Secrets of Doping: How Russia Makes its Winners, broadcast in Germany last year.

Though the role of the commission was to investigate claims implicating not only Russia, but the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), athletes, coaches, trainers and doctors, perhaps unsurprisingly given the name of the initial documentary, Russia did not come off well in its findings.

“British athletic greats like Jo Pavey have been left wondering how many medals she might have ‘missed out on’ because of illegal drugs use, while Jessica Ennis-Hill remarked on the ‘dark place’ athletics finds itself in.”

In fact the report found doping so endemic in Russian athletics that the use of illegal drugs by Russian athletics was branded “state sponsored”, with the 2012 London Games “sabotaged” by “inaction” against suspicious doping profiles.

Putin, incidentally, said the allegations were completely unfounded, because only a really scary guy could argue it was totally normal for a country’s security services to be present at drug-testing sessions, and not attract huge levels of scorn. This isn’t scorn, Mr Putin, in case you’re reading.

As well as its current suspension from international competition, Russia will now no longer be entitled to host the 2016 World Race Walking Cup in Cheboksary or the 2016 World Junior Championships in Kazan. The report even recommended the lifetime ban of five Russian athletes (as well as five coaches) from competition – all of whom are women.

Of course this isn’t unheard of; in fact I found a wonderful article about the popularity and dangers of performance-enhancing drugs for women, particularly on how they look and their baby-making junk (the two most popular stories on this website were of a tennis player changing her pants and a woman crushing watermelons with her thighs), but we’re more used to hearing about high-profile doping cases involving male megastars such as Lance Armstrong, Linford Christie and Shane Warne. But then we’re more used to hearing about male megastars.

Darya Pishchalnikova (left), pictured here at the 2007 World Athletics Championships in Osaka, was banned from competing in 2008 and 2013 after drug tests. Photo by Eckhard Pecher (Arcimboldo), shared under CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.

Darya Pishchalnikova (left), pictured here at the 2007 World Athletics Championships in Osaka, was banned from competing in 2008 and 2013 after drug tests. Photo by Eckhard Pecher (Arcimboldo), shared under CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s pretty serious shit Russia is up against, with less than a year to clean up its act before the Olympics. There are a number of measures those involved will have to undertake, like “make the anti-doping system independent from sports organisations” and various other things that can, in the main, be summarised thus: be professional, effective, don’t take bribes and generally speaking, do your jobs. But nine months is a long time in politics and sport. I mean, the Russian anti-doping authorities, the IAAF and the Russian government could conceive and spawn a child in that time, so who knows.

One thing’s for certain, the Independent Olympics Committee’s president, Thomas Bach, is “confident that the initiatives being proposed by the ROC, with the responsible international organisations will ensure compliance as soon as possible in order to provide participation of the clean Russian athletes at the Olympic Games”. Hey, did I mention that until August, Sepp Blatter had been a member of the IOC committee for 16 years?

British athletic greats like Jo Pavey have been left wondering how many medals she might have “missed out on” because of illegal drugs use, while Jessica Ennis-Hill remarked on the “dark place” athletics finds itself in. Following fresh allegations of widespread doping in international athletics and with reporting not yet concluded, not least because of ongoing criminal investigations, WADA’s report was extended in August this year. Who knows how much darker it might yet get.

@inspireajen

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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen