State-sanctioned doping for Russian runners rocks IAAF
What has come to competitive track and field? On Friday Nov. 13, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) suspended the Russian track and field program from future participation in international competition following the discovery of state-sanctioned doping by the athletes.
Arguably the most condemning finding was that a Moscow drug lab in charge of Russian tests destroyed over 1,400 samples days before a regulatory visit by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). After WADA representatives asked that the samples be kept for their visit, the lab went ahead and destroyed all of them as part of a “clean up” of the work area.
The findings have the potential to lead to a widespread exposition of the corruption in international track and field, but for a few reasons this appears unlikely. Even if change is needed, it’s hard to imagine any big changes happening any time soon. The problem starts with internal resistance, where cheating athletes and corrupt higher ups will keep trying to maintain their cheating system.
Athletes reported being told they needed to get rid of bad results (by paying) or face consequences. In many cases, athletes would make regular payments to the doping agencies to stay “clean.” Russian 800 meter runner Yuliya Stepanova said that Russian athletes would travel under fake identities to avoid random drug testing all track and field athletes are subject to. Many Russian athletes currently stand at risk of losing world championship and Olympic medals because of WADA’s discoveries.
Members of the IAAF were involved in the cover-up as well, with former president Liam Diack stepping down on November 10. Diack allegedly personally accepted bribes on multiple occasions in return for helping out with the doping cover-ups.
But the corruption doesn’t only come from the top level. Another reason a big cleanup isn’t coming soon is because all the most successful countries in track and field are probably involved. And if they’re involved, they won’t sponsor investigations or elect officials to the IAAF who would fix the situation.
Every competitive group is surrounded by questions, with problems ranging from non-compliant doping agencies in Kenya and Ethiopia to labs that don’t test their athletes at all in Jamaica. Jamaica is accused of only giving 1 random drug test over 20 months from 2012 and 2013, which of course included the Olympics.
Even the Americans are culprits, with leading distance runner Galen Rupp accused of abusing steroids and every other performance-enhancing drug in any way he can while staying under the radar. Rupp’s training partner Mo Farah, the top runner in the United Kingdom, brings another country into question.
In every case investigations appear to be ongoing, but no serious punishments have come out. Occasionally, some people resign, like some of the drug testers from Jamaica in 2013. We will never find out if Usain Bolt did anything wrong though. Of course, this isn’t surprising, since representatives from all of these questionable countries play a big role in choosing the IAAF representatives.
So where does this leave track and field?
Many athletes view the shakeup as progress, but some, like Olympic middle distance runner Nick Willis believes the IAAF has a long way to go. Willis tweeted, “Russian athletes are not the sole perpetrators. Let’s hope they investigate all the major players non-complicit in doping control.”
Full-scale investigations might not be enough. Willis suggests the corruption continues within the IAAF and that the organization’s new president, Sebastian Coe of the United Kingdom, is arguably no better than Diack. Coe has already drawn criticism for leaving the door open for Russia to participate in the upcoming Olympics and holding off individual bans for Russian athletes. Other athletes anticipated, at minimum, a multi-year ban on the Russian program.
If this investigation doesn’t turn into the mass investigation that the track and field world needs, then what comes next? Even if organizations like the IAAF don’t take action, the WADA can continue its efforts to expose the cheating groups. Expositions like this one of Russia help show people what problems exist and might help bring other powers into the mix.
One suggestion is that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) take some kind of action against the IAAF. If the IOC opened up the possibility of banning track and field from the Olympics, the IAAF might be forced to fix itself.
The scandal also helps open up the eyes of the public to the ongoing corruption. A damaged reputation for track and field drives away viewers and hurts sponsorships, which could bring change. It stands to be seen whether corporations like Nike (which sponsors Galen Rupp and his training team) will take action of their own, instead of risking being associated with the dirty players.
Hopefully, someday everyone can view doping as a piece of history in track and field and have more arguments about whose records should count.