Russia to Investigate Athletics Doping Claims

Russia doping allegations
Russia's Sergey Kirdyapkin passes Buckingham Palace in the men's 50km race walk during the London 2012 Olympic Games at The Mall August 11, 2012. Kirdyapkin won the gold in 2012, but was banned by Russia's anti-doping agency in January. Luke Macgregor/Reuters

Russian athletics authorities are investigating claims of mass doping after Russia came off particularly badly in allegations of a major scandal in world athletics published in the Sunday Times yesterday.

AFP reported that the All-Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF) were "seriously concerned" by accusations of widespread doping which were revealed in the Times and German broadcaster ARD.

A huge tranche of blood test data belonging to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), athletics' world governing body, was leaked to the two media outlets. The data involved more than 12,000 blood tests from around 5,000 athletes covering the period from 2001 to 2012. It implicates more than 800 athletes in having suspicious results which could indicate blood doping.

Russia was the worst-hit by the allegations, with reports that as many as 30 percent of Russian blood tests analysed were considered suspicious. The Sunday Times called Russia "the blood-doping centre of the world" and claimed that more than 80 percent of the country's medals had been won by athletes who had provided a suspicious blood test at least once in their career.

In a statement to AFP, the ARAF, which governs athletics in Russia, said it was undertaking a "close study" of the ARD documentary and accompanying reports. "We are seriously concerned by the accusations over the anti-doping procedures in athletics along with the world athletics ruling body IAAF and the European Athletics Association," the statement said. However, acting ARAF president Vadim Zelichenok later told Reuters that no action would be taken before the athletics World Championships, which begin in Beijing on 22 August.

Other Russian officials have reacted angrily to the reports and accused the media of unfairly singling Russia out. Valentin Maskalov, the former head coach of Russia's athletics team, told the Guardian that Russia "is not the leader in this area." Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko told state-owned news agency TASS that the revelations were "not so much a blow against Russia as a blow against the IAAF" and said that Russian athletes were tested as regularly as competitors from other countries, if not more.

Russian athletics has faced accusations of widespread doping before. In December, a German TV documentary aired on Das Erste alleged that up to 99 percent of Russian athletes were guilty of doping and that Russian officials accepted bribes from athletes to cover up positive tests. Former ARAF president Valentin Balakhnichev responded, telling Reuters that the allegations were "a pack of lies." The IAAF and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said they would investigate the claims but are yet to report. According to the Guardian, of the 37 athletes penalised since the IAAF introduced its biological passport programme to catch dopers in 2009, 23 have been Russian. Russia's own anti-doping agency banned five race walkers in January, including three Olympic gold medallists.