Russian Track and Field Athletes Banned from Competing in International Competition: Will They Be Banned from the Rio Olympics?

Yulia Stepanova and Vitaliy Stepanov in the ARD Documentary Geheimsache Doping Top Secret Doping
Yulia Stepanova and Vitaliy Stepanov in the ARD Documentary Geheimsache Doping Top Secret Doping

As incredible as it may sound, the entire Russian track and field team have been banned from international competition, and may be prevented from competing in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. It was announced on November 13 that Russia’s track and field federation was suspended in a 27-1 vote by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, the global governing body of track and field. Not only has numerous cases of doping been uncovered, based on a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), doping appears to have been systemic, involving coaches, athletes and officials.

As the report explains, “The investigation indicates that the acceptance of cheating at all levels is widespread and of long standing. An athlete’s decision not to participate is likely to leave him or her without access to top caliber coaches and thus the opportunities to excel. This acceptance and, at times, expectation of cheating…indicate a fundamentally flawed mindset that is deeply ingrained in all levels of Russian athletics. The mindset is ‘justified’ on the theory that everyone else is cheating as well.”

WADA was prompted into action after the airing of a documentary by German broadcaster ARD called “Geheimsache Doping”, or “Top Secret Doping” in English.

Below are excerpts from the English transcript of the now-famous documentary. You can watch an English version of the documentary here.

When discus thrower, Evgenia Pwcherina is asked by a report how many athletes from the national team in Russia are doping, she replies, “Most of them. The greater part. 99%. And you get absolutely anything. Everything the athlete wants. And the shorter the period it can be detected, the more expensive the product.”

Said Oleg Popov, a Russian coach, “The athlete has no choice. Either you prepare yourself in national team with banned substances, in order to win medals which are also accredited to the Federation – the head coach, the Ministry of Sport, the Federation President, the entire Russian Athletics Federation. And, if you are unable to agree with this scheme, which they offer you, then things can move very quickly and you’re out.”

One of the first people to approach the producer of the documentary, Hajo Seppelt, was a runner named Yulia Stepanova, who with her husband Vitaly, agreed to reveal details of the systematic doping process on camera. This included intimate involvement by the leading sports physician in Russia, Sergey Portugalov, who ensured that the Russian track and field athletes were given every possible medical advantage in training and competition. His involvement was so well known that getting drugs was euphemistically called “going to Portugal”.

As could be expected, in the weeks leading up to the decision by the IAAF to ban Russian track and field athletes from international competition, the backlash from Russia has been harsh. Bur apparently, as more evidence surfaces, even Russian officials are taking a more resigned and collaborative stance. The New York Times quoted sports minister Vitaly Mutko as saying, “We are prepared to recertify the laboratory, or to reform, or to create a new anti-doping organization.”

The New York Times article stated that if Russia is able to show compliance quickly enough, it might be possible to get their track and field athletes to compete in time for the Rio Games in August, 2016. “If they do the surgery and do the therapy, I hope they can get there,” Dick Pound, the WADA president and an author of the report, said earlier this week. “That is your nuclear weapon. Either get this done or you are not going to Rio.”