A Rush to Judgment on Russian Doping

The West’s anti-Russian bias is so strong that normal standards of fairness are cast aside whenever a propaganda edge can be gained, a factor swirling around the treatment of Russian athletes at the Rio Olympics, Rick Sterling says.

By Rick Sterling

There is an ugly anti-Russian mood in various Rio Olympic venues. When the Russian swimmers entered the pool for the 4×100-meter Freestyle team event, they were loudly booed. When the Russian team barely lost third place, the announcer happily announced that Russian had been “kept off the medal stand”.

Last Sunday, it was announced that the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) had decided to ban the entire Russian team from the upcoming Paralympics to be held in Rio in September. Next day, The Associated Press story opened as follows: “After escaping a blanket ban from the Olympics, Russia was kicked out of the upcoming Paralympics on Sunday as the ultimate punishment for the state running a doping operation that polluted sports by prioritizing ‘medals over morals.’”2016_1

Is this true, exaggerated or false? In this article I will show how some big accusations based on little evidence have contributed to discrimination against clean Russian athletes and fostered a dangerous animosity contrary to the intended spirit of the Olympics.

The IPC made its decision to ban all 267 Russian Paralympic athletes largely on the basis of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s July 16 McLaren Report and private communications with its chief author Richard McLaren.

IPC President Sir Phillip Craven issued a statement full of accusations and moral outrage. He said, “In my view, the McLaren Report marked one of the darkest days in the history of all sport.” However, the McLaren Report is deeply biased. Here are some of the problems with the report:

–It relied primarily on the testimony of one person, the former Director of Moscow Laboratory Grigory Rodchenkov, who was implicated in extorting Russian athletes for money and was the chief culprit with strong interest in casting blame somewhere else.

–It accused Russian authorities without considering their defense and contrary information.

–It excluded a written submission and documents provided by a Russian authority.

–It failed to identify individual athletes who benefited but instead cast suspicion on the entire team.

–It ignored the statistical data compiled by WADA which show Russian violations to be NOT exceptional.

–It did not provide the source for quantitative measurements.

–It claimed to have evidence but failed to reveal it.

A detailed critique of the McLaren Report can be found at Sports Integrity Initiative, Consortiumnews, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, True Publica, Global Research, Telesur, and other sites.

Collective Punishment

The IPC explanation of why they banned the entire Paralympic team boils down to the accusation that the State-sponsored doping programme that exists within Russian sport regrettably extends to Russian Para sport as well. The facts really do hurt; they are an unprecedented attack on every clean athlete who competes in sport. The anti-doping system in Russia is broken, corrupted and entirely compromised. …

The scene in Rio de Janeiro as the 2016 Summer Olympics were set to begin. (Photo credit: Olympic.org)

The scene in Rio de Janeiro as the 2016 Summer Olympics were set to begin. (Photo credit: Olympic.org)

“The doping culture that is polluting Russian sport stems from the Russian government and has now been uncovered in not one, but two independent reports commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. … I believe the Russian government has catastrophically failed its Para athletes. Their medals over morals mentality disgusts me. The complete corruption of the anti-doping system is contrary to the rules and strikes at the very heart of the spirit of Paralympic sport.”

These are strong words and accusations, not against the athletes, but against the Russian government. It seems the Russian Paralympic athletes are being collectively punished as a means to punish the Russian government.

But what are the facts? First, it’s true some Russian athletes have used prohibited steroids or other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). The documentaries by Hajo Seppelt expose examples of Russian athletes admitting to taking PEDs, a banned coach clandestinely continuing to coach, and another banned coach dealing in prohibited drugs.

Another fact is that this problem exists in many if not all countries, especially since professional athletics is big business. WADA data shows that many countries have significant numbers of doping violations.

It is claimed that doping by elite athletes is pervasive in Russia but is this true? To answer that accurately would require an objective examination, not a sensation seeking media report. In the current controversy the accusations and assumptions rely substantially on individual anecdotes and testimony which has been publicized through media reports (ARD documentaries, “60 Minutes” report and New York Times stories) with very little scrutiny.

In contrast with the accusations, the scientific data prepared by WADA indicates that Russian athletes have a fairly low incidence of positive drug tests in international certified laboratories. The biggest question is whether the Russian government has been “sponsoring” or somehow supervising prohibited doping. This has been repeated many times and is now widely assumed to be true.

But the evidence is far from compelling. The accusations are based primarily on the testimony of three people: the main culprit and mastermind Grigory Rodchenkov who was extorting athletes and “whistle-blowers” Vitaliy and Yuliya Stepanov. The Stepanovs were the star witnesses in the “60 Minutes” feature on this topic.

The report was factually flawed: it mistakenly reports that Vitaliy had a “low level job at the Russian Anti Doping Agency RUSADA.” Actually he was adviser to the Director General, close to the Minister of Sports and a trainer of doping control officers.

The “60 Minutes” story also failed to include the important fact that Vitaliy was directly involved in his wife’s doping. According to Seppelt’s documentary “The Secrets of Doping,” “First, Vitaliy even helps his wife with doping, procures the drugs, leads a kind of double life.”(5:45) Adding to the argument there may be a political bias in these accusations, all three witnesses (Rodchenkov and the Stepanovs) are now living in the United States.

The “proof” of Russian state-sponsored doping rests on remarkably little solid evidence. The principal assertion is that the Deputy Minister of Sports issued email directives to eliminate positive tests of “protected” athletes. McLaren claims to have “electronic data” and emails proving this. But he has not revealed the emails.

If the emails are authentic, that would be damning. How would the Ministry of Sports officials explain it? Do they have any alternative explanation of the curious directives to “Quarantine” or “Save” doping test samples? Astoundingly, McLaren decided not to ask them and he still has not shown the evidence he says that he has.

Tampering with Bottles?

Another controversial issue is regarding the opening and replacement of “tamper proof” bottles. The Rodchenkov account is that in the middle of the night, in cahoots with FSB (successor to KGB), they would replace “dirty” urine with “clean” urine. Rodchenkov says they found a way to open the tamper-proof urine sample bottles. But the Swiss manufacturer Berlinger continues to stand by its product and has effectively challenged the veracity of the Rodchenkov/McLaren story.

Opening ceremony for the 2016 Rio Olympics. (Photo from Olympic.org)

Opening ceremony for the 2016 Rio Olympics. (Photo from Olympic.org)

Since the release of the McLaren Report, Berlinger has issued a statement saying:

–To the statement in the McLaren investigation report that some such bottles proved possible to open Berlinger Special AG cannot offer any authoritative response at the present time.

–Berlinger Special AG has no knowledge at present of the specifications, the methods or the procedures involved in the tests and experiments conducted by the McLaren Commission.

–Berlinger Special AG conducts its own regular reappraisals of its doping kits, and also has its products tested and verified by an independent institute that has been duly certificated by the Swiss authorities.

–In neither its own tests nor any tests conducted by the independent institute in Switzerland has any sealed Berlinger Special AG urine sample bottle proved possible to open.

–This also applies to the “Sochi 2014” sample bottle model.

–The specialists at Berlinger Special AG are able at any time to determine whether one of the company’s sample bottles has been tampered with or unlawfully replicated.

McLaren says he does not know how the Russians were opening the bottles but he knows it can be done because someone demonstrated it to him personally. In contrast with McLaren’s assertions, Berlinger states unequivocally: “In neither its own tests nor any tests conducted by the independent institute in Switzerland has any sealed Berlinger Special AG urine sample bottle proved possible to open. This also applies to the ‘Sochi 2014’ sample bottle model.”

If McLaren’s claims are true, why has he not discussed this with the manufacturer? If McLaren’s claims are true, isn’t it of the highest importance to identify the weakness in the system so that doping test samples cannot be swapped?

McLaren further claims to be able to forensically determine when a “tamper proof” bottle has been opened by the “marks and scratches” on the inside of the bottle caps. His report does not include photos to show what these “marks and scratches” look like, nor does it consider the possibility of a mark or scratch resulting from some other event such as different force being applied, cross-threading or backing off on the cap.

In this area also, McLaren has apparently not had his findings confirmed by the Swiss manufacturer despite the fact that the company states: “The specialists at Berlinger Special AG are able at any time to determine whether one of the company’s sample bottles has been tampered with or unlawfully replicated.”

If the findings of McLaren’s “marks and scratches expert” are accurate, why did they not get confirmation from the specialists at Berlinger? Perhaps it is because Berlinger disputes McLaren’s claims and says “Our kits are secure.”

The IPC decision substantially rests on the fact-challenged McLaren report. The IPC statement falsely claims that the McLaren bottle top “scratches and marks” expert has “corroborated the claim that the State directed scheme involved Russian Paralympic athletes.”

Rush to Judgment

The IPC report includes data that purports to show widespread doping manipulation in Russia, saying: “Professor McLaren provided the names of the athletes associated with the 35 samples … and whether the sample had been marked QUARANTINE or SAVE.” These 35 samples are presumably the same Paralympic 35 which are identified on page 41 of the McLaren Report as being “Disappearing Positive Test Results by Sport Russian Athletes.”

There is no source for this data but supposedly it covers testing between 2012 and 2015. McLaren provided another 10 samples thus making 45 samples relating to 44 athletes.

It is then explained that 17 of these samples are actually not from IPC administered sport. So the actual number is 27 athletes (44-minus-17) implicated. However, in another inconsistency, the IPC statement says not all these samples were marked “SAVE” by Moscow Laboratory. That was only done for “at least” 11 of the samples and athletes.

If the IPC final number is accurate, it means the committee confirmed 11 Paralympic athletes who tested positive between 2012 and 2015 but had their positive tests “disappeared” to allow these athletes to compete. If that’s true, these athletes should be suspended or banned. Instead of doing that, the IPC banned the entire 267-member Russian Paralympic team.

The McLaren Report looks like a rush to judgment. The report was launched after the sensational New York Times story based on Grigory Rodchenkov and the “60 Minutes” segment based on the Stepanovs. Before he was half way done his investigation, Richard McLaren was advising the IAAF to ban the entire Russian team.

The McLaren Report, with all its flaws and shortcomings, was published just a few weeks ago on July 16. Then, on Aug. 7, the IPC issued its decision to ban the Russian Paralympic Team from the September Rio Paralympics.

The IPC statement claims that the committee “provided sufficient time to allow the Russian Paralympic Committee to present their case to the IPC” before they finalized the decision. While the Russian Paralympic Committee appeared before the IPC, it’s doubtful they had sufficient time to argue their case or even to know the details of the accusations.

In summary, the accusation of Russian “state sponsored doping” by McLaren and Craven is based on little solid evidence. Despite this, the accusations have resulted in the banning of many hundreds of clean athletes from the Olympics and Paralympics and are contributing to the ugly “ant-Russian” prejudice and discrimination happening at the Olympics right now.

This seems to violate the purpose of the Olympics movement which is to promote international peace, not conflict and discrimination.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist. He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com

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15 comments for “A Rush to Judgment on Russian Doping

  1. Gary Hare
    August 11, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    The US has a long, successful and deadly history of believing what it wants to believe and whatever supports its political agenda, and ignoring facts that go counter to its desired “analysis”. It has, unfortunately, been able to convince many of its allies to accept its biased assessments. Take the case for war in Iraq; its “findings” on the use of poisonous gas in Syria; its blaming of Ukraine separatists and Russia for the downing of MH17 without presentation of the evidence it claims to have; its position on Crimea that ignores the overwhelming wishes of the Crimean people; and so on.

    So it comes as no surprise that the tainted “whistleblowers” would be believed, as this supports the US agenda. No need to scrutinise their legitimacy (remember Challabi), when clearly anything they say, given their history, could well be self-serving, and at the very least, dubious. If similar accusations were levelled against “us, or our friends”, they would get a much more independent, fair, and exhaustive examination, if not an “assassination of the messenger”. But we don’t need to follow proper democratic, legal or unbiased principles when critiquing “not our friends” – Russia, China, Iran, Syria, and so on.

    Both Mr Sterling’s contributions are perfect examples of why we must question what we are told before we rush to judgement, a duty of investigative reporters throughout history, but a duty that we rarely see these days, when the need to do so is greater than ever.

    I agree sadly, but entirely with the belief that this whole exercise has brought total discredit to the Olympic movement.

    • MEJ
      August 12, 2016 at 1:10 pm

      Agree, and all of those past lies are going to come back and bite us hard when we, inevitably, lose our world dominance and become just another country. Then nothing we say will be believed and another country will keep pointing fingers at us because, you know, “those Americans are all liars and murderers, who would believe anything they say.”

      Be careful ascending the ladder, because the fingers you bruise on the way up will become claws when you finally climb down. I wish our leaders would think of that once in a while.

  2. jaycee
    August 11, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    A clue that this report was deliberately intended to disrupt Russian athletes at the Games is that it was leaked to the MSM two days ahead of its release, allowing sensationalist headline reporting across the USA, Canada, and Britain before anyone was supposed to know the report’s contents.

    This report’s methodology will be challenged, and if the author is shown to lack the evidence he claims to have, then himself, WADA, and the efforts by 14 countries to ban the Russians will be discredited. Lowball tactics, if this is what has happened, are themselves a form of cheating.

    • MEJ
      August 12, 2016 at 1:12 pm

      I wonder if anybody behind this will care. The report has done its job for 2016: the Russians are embarrassed and excluded. Now the plans are for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

  3. Abe
    August 11, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    One thing is certain amidst all the controversy: the IPC President is craven.

  4. exiled off mainstreet
    August 11, 2016 at 8:09 pm

    The banning of the Russians from the Paralympics, where presumably little if any drug violations occur exposes the cynicism and heartlessness of the yankee propagandists. Banning the disabled from their olympics because they are Russians is beneath contempt and exposes the tawdry imperialist nature of the entire olympic complex.

  5. James lake
    August 11, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    WADA, IAAF, IPC and their acolytes by taking the actions in the way thst they have, was designed to damage Russia. What it has done however is damage sport in general and create such a nasty atmosphere, I and many others refuse to watch any of it.
    Those that are participating in what amounts to witch hunts have short memories BALCO springs to mind,

  6. ms 57
    August 12, 2016 at 3:07 am

    The pro-Russian line all too often on these pages and in this article is bizarre.

    Anecdotally, in all of the 15-20 articles I have read about the swimming competitions, not a single one – not one – contains the word “Russia” in a political sense (except by Russian athletes) while every reference to “Russian” has been made in terms of doping. These athletes are not engaged in promoting a new Cold War; they are pissed at the level of cheating by Russian athletes against whom they compete.

    According to a brief bio in Mondoweiss, “Rick Sterling lives in the SF Bay Area and is active in several peace/justice organizations working around the Mideast and Latin America. During the 1970’s and early 80’s he was a member of Liberation Support Movement focused on the liberation struggles in southern Africa.” According to a briefer bio in Counterpunch, “Rick Sterling is a founding member of Syria Solidarity Movement.”

    According to his cv at Western University, Ontario where he teaches law, Richard McLaren, the author of the WADA doping report:

    “McLaren is a long standing member of International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the world Supreme Court of sports disputes based in Lausanne, Switzerland. He has been a member of the ad Hoc Divisions of CAS at the Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan in 1998 and Turin Italy in 2006; the Summer Olympic Games: in Sydney, Australia 2000; in Athens, Greece, 2004; and, in Beijing, China, 2008 and the Commonwealth Games in Manchester England in 2002.

    He was appointed Chairman of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Doping Control to investigate allegations against certain American track and field athletes (Report July 2001) and served for six years as Chairman of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Anti-Doping Tribunal until 2006 when the ATP Doping Program was transferred to the International Tennis Federation.

    He participated with Senator George Mitchell in the Major League Baseball inquiry in to the use of steroids which culminated in a Report in December of 2007.

    He is a member of the Anti-Doping Panel for the International Cricket Council based in Dubai and chairs the Doping Tribunal for the European Tour which serves men’s professional golf.

    In 2011 he was appointed the President of the Basketball Arbitration Tribunal based in Geneva Switzerland and associated with FIBA.

    In December 2014, he was appointed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to investigate allegations of widespread, systematic doping and cover-ups in Russia.”

    The WADA report’s central finding was that Russian athletes “from the vast majority of summer and winter Olympic sports” had benefited from what McLaren called “the Disappearing Positive Methodology” which had become state policy after the country’s poor medal count during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and which allowed ‘dirty’ [doping] Russian athletes to compete in Sochi in 2014 knowing ‘for certain’ their samples would come back clean. The report found the “existence of widespread cheating through the use of doping substances” and evidence that the Russian Ministry of Sport was directly involved in doping program.

    Now, is all of that attributable to a conspiracy by the West to blacken the reputation of Russia in hopes of starting a new Cold War, or are the Russians cheating in sports? Can you find a trace of the political in any of the above?

    Russian president Vladimir Putin and other top officials, on the other hand, have repeatedly claimed the allegations against Russia are politicized.

    “The deliberate campaign targeting our athletes was characterized by so-called double standards.”

    This is all too bizarre. The WADA report is about doping in sports, not about neo-Cold War politics. If anything, this article reveals not an anti-Russian bias but a conspiratorial anti-Western, pro-Russian line.

    • Abe
      August 12, 2016 at 3:22 pm

      Hasbara 101: The “forget the facts and kneel before this awesome ‘expert’ employment history” troll.

      The doubly “bizarre” MS57 is predictably unable to find a trace of the political in the fact-challenged McLaren Report.

      Unable to ‘splain the conspicuous lack of solid facts in the McLaren Report, MS57 offers a recitation of McLaren’s mighty CV.

      This is somehow meant to reveal a doubly “pro-Russian line” on these pages.

      With this comment, MS57 doubly confirms his Bellingcat CV.

      Every time Bellingcat work frauduct gets exposed, Eliot Higgins (his CV frantically padded by the Atlantic Council) shrieks that he’s being menaced by Russkies.

  7. Silly Me
    August 12, 2016 at 7:00 am

    Since around 1990, ALL competitive sports require doping, if the desired objective is a medal. In recent decades, the question has become, “who is the best in doping,” instead of, “who is the best”?

    If you stop watching the travesty of international competitions, there will be no money in it and the fraud will stop. Of course, kiss good-bye to new world records.

  8. George
    August 12, 2016 at 7:11 am

    The Russian government is preparing a multitude of lawsuits on behalf of its athletes because of this shit.
    WADA will have a fun time.

  9. August 12, 2016 at 10:14 am

    *sniff*sniff*
    you smell kind of psyoppy, too…

  10. August 12, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” — ‘Olympic Charter’ p. 13 (Lausanne: International Olympic Committee, 2015). I doubt collective punishment and unsporting conduct fall outside this stricture, yet both are either allowed or practiced by the very organization which authored the above-quoted publication.

  11. BDrizz
    August 12, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    We’re in the middle of a long propaganda campaign setting us up for WWIII. I think of sport as my escape from politics & problems. As such, I’m disgusted at the naked politicization of sport. It should be the 1 thing that brings us all together, regardless of the team we cheer for.

  12. Skip
    August 12, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    In order to be consistent (ha ha) US should ban all US based bicycle teams from the Tour de France due to Lance Armstrong. Since he did it for 7 years, the ban should be extended that long.

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