There is perhaps no such a person in the world of athletics who hasn’t heard yet about the doping scandals with Russian track and field athletes involved. This is a big topic which I would like to talk about today.
As a professional track runner from Russia, a person who knows many details from the inside, I want to confirm that the problem does indeed exist and it’s very complex. First, I want to describe briefly how the system of athletics works in Russia in general.
2) How the system of Track and Field works in Russia
There are no track clubs in Russia, as there are in the United States. Rather the national championships hosts athletes who represent each its own state, which he/she lives in, and each athlete gives certain points to his/her state at the national championships. Then, the state who scores the most points, wins the national championships. Based on the previous year performance, each state is getting money from the ministry of sport of Russia, and it then pays the athletes based on their previous season performance.
For example, Moscow City is usually the team who wins the most events at the national championship, therefore, it gets more money from the ministry of sport, and its athletes, therefore, get paid more. Thus, the city can attract the best athletes to live in Moscow and represent the city at the nationals. It is usually followed by Moscow State, Saint-Petersburg City, Krasnodar Region and so on. Each athlete also participates in other races on the regional or local level, where he/she represents the town or area he/she lives in.
It is important to understand that all these races and competitions are conducted under the ARAF (Russian Athletics Federation) aegis, and there are no other races for professional athletes to participate in. This is true for both “elite” (Russia National Team level) athletes, and “emerging elite” athletes (who make it to the final, but are not on the national team).
There are some amateur level competitions, organized by the amateur athletes, athletic gear companies, or the running stores, which are not under the ARAF aegis. But those are amateur and so they are not very competitive. Thus, a professional runner has to compete under the ARAF aegis in Russia if he/she wants to make his living.
I will talk about the emerging elite level athletes first, as I am in this group currently.
- If I want to train and compete, and earn some money for it, I have to run for the state I live in at the national championships, and I better do it well. I absolutely have to race at the nationals and some other regional races, if I want to get paid from my state as an athlete. If I do it well, i.e., make it top 8 at the nationals, I will get paid about $500 stipend from my state, which is just about enough to make my living and training possible. The key point here is that I have to run the races under the RusAF aegis, even though I am not on the national team and have nothing to do with the national team whatsoever.
- The “elite” level athletes are the ones who are part of the national team. They get paid a good salary by their state, and they also get paid by the ARAF itself for being a national team member. They also have a chance to sign a contract with a foreign sportswear brand representative in Russia, and get some running gear and even a salary from it too. These are the athletes who spend most of their time at the national team training camps and then compete at the international events representing Russia. They also run the national championship too, as part of their preparation for the races abroad. These are the athletes who we talk about when we talk about the ongoing doping scandal.
3) The doping scandal
Now we can move to the doping problem. The scandal began with the national team, i.e. the people who are in the category number 2 above. Apparently, almost the entire national team has been using doping. Moreover, from what I learned later, it was almost a mandatory requirement for a candidate to the Olympic or the World Championships team, to undergo a prescribed doping course. The elite athletes had what was called a “green light”, i.e. they could compete “dirty” both at the national championships and the international competitions under the IAAF aegis. This was made possible because the ministry of sport of Russia somehow found a way to pay bribes to the IAAF officials, and to have the IAAF go blind on the Russian athletes competing dirty. Moreover, according to the Mr. McLaren independent investigation reports part I and part II, there was a government ran doping program to develop new types of doping, have the national team athletes take them, and then protect the athletes from being caught by WADA by either substituting the samples, or other ways to cover up a positive doping test. This all worked as a well organized structure, having ministry of sport, ARAF, RusADA officials, and even the security services working on it. More than a thousand top athletes and coaches from across all the sports in Russia were involved. When this all became apparent, the RusAF membership in the IAAF was suspended.
All athletes, who has ever competed under the ARAF aegis were disqualified and are not allowed to compete internationally now, including the category 1 athletes from the above, who has not even been part of the national team, but had to compete under the RusAF aegis to get paid its stipend from their state.
Now, I don’t say that the 1st category athletes did not dope. They did. They just did not have the “green light”. They had to guess the wash-out periods and then dope, hoping they will not be tested by RusADA at all, or that they have guessed the wash-out period correctly.
I can say for myself though, that I have never doped. I have always trained and competed clean. I have never been tested positive, neither for my over 4 years in the USA, nor while in Russia.
My only fault, perhaps, which I can admit, is that I heard about the doping usage all around me and never blew a whistle. The reason for that is simple: I could not even think that one day I will have to go against all these people. I know all these guys, I see them at the training camps, I even run with them from time to time. I even thought of some of them as of my friends. In my merely subjective estimate, about 95-98% of runners in Russia, both elite and emerging elite, are doping in one way or another. It is just so casual in Russia. Everybody just do that. It is also well known for every athlete in Russia, we all know that. You can talk to anybody here, and if she/he is sincere with you, she/he will tell you the same. People here believe that one cannot run fast without doping. I do not agree with it, I have the very opposite opinion, but I have never thought about these people as of my enemies. You can even ask people here about doping they are using, and they will tell you what they do and how. But I have been trying not to get involved in it, and thank God, I managed to stay out of it.
“Ok, they are all doping, I don’t want to, but what can I do? -Nothing. It is just how the system works…” – This is what I was thinking. I knew that it would be useless to go against the system. I would just get into trouble and nothing would change.
But I can’t stay quite anymore. And here is why.
4) Why did I decide to write all this and start speaking up
We were all here in Bosteri village in Kyrgyzstan Republic mountains for a high altitude training. There is a small group of runners here, who share my view on doping, and are on the same page with me. We tend to run together and go visit each other between practices.
And there are everybody else, the runners, who “do not share our views”, let’s put it that way. We all know each other well, we shake hands when see each other, talk, and sometimes even run together.
But here is what happened not long ago here in Bosteri village:
A friend of mine, who has recently came out of his 2 years ban for using a prohibited substances in sport, came to my other friend, and was going to beat him up, because as he said: “you are spreading rumors about me being a doper and my training group being dopers”.
Now, I want to repeat that that person has just got out of his 2 years ban for doping.
We certainly do talk about those “other guys” from time to time, and judge them for making, as we think, the wrong decision of using doping. But these are just the conversations that take place in our small circle when we go see each other after practices to socialize. We would not accuse anyone in using doping directly, even though we know for sure they are using doping. We would also never come to a someone from the other group and tell him: “I am gonna bit you up, because you are a doper”. But that is basically what that guy did – he came to us and wanted to beat one of my friends, because, as he supposed, my friend called him a doper in a private conversation among ourselves. This is just sad. I knew both of these guys very well. I thought of both of them as of my friends. I did my best not to let the fight happen, and, thank God, I succeeded.
But after this incident has happened, I have realized that the things have gone too far now. People are literally ready to beat each because some of them do use doping, and others don’t.
Moreover, as I mentioned before, these are the people I know well. They also know each well. The conflict became too sharp and even dangerous for some.
When this all has happened I decided I can’t stay quite any more. I decided to speak up and I declared my anti-doping position loudly in my Russian social network accounts and on Facebook.
5) What we are doing now and how do people react
I have at least 5-6 people who are on the same page with me, including some athletes and coaches. We came together as a group, based on our rigorous anti-doping position. We share a common belief that doping is wrong, that there is a huge problem with doping in Russia, and that we need to do something about it.
So, only 6 of us so far, against the rest of them.
The problem takes its roots so deep, that we are not sure what can we do for now, and how would we go about fixing the problem. Remember, even the highest RusAF officials have been involved here, as well as high position people from the Ministry of Sport, and even the special services. The elite Russian athletes and their coaches are also not on our side.
For know, we just come together and talk about it. We share news and support each other. We believe, that one day we will be able to do something about it, and fix the problem. We have all signed our cleansport.org pledge, and we truly believe in the cause. We have even started a “mustache dance challenge” for clean sport – we drew the mustache to each other and all did fancy dances to attract the public attention to the cleansportco campaign. And at the same time we were explaining the people what the cleansportco is all about. We search for athletes who, as we believe, are clean, and try to drag them to our side. We also put up a project called “Rocket Science Project“, where we use all the latest scientific knowledge to improve our training without doping and help others do the same. We face mostly jokes, offenses, and sometimes even threats. People laugh at us, saying that we are stupid if we think that it is possible to run fast without doping. But we disregard that. We believe in the cause, and we are going to stand for it.
6) No changes took place whatsoever after the scandal
Now, I want to also say that since the suspension of the ARAF a year ago, nothing has changed whatsoever. The coaches who are not supposed to coach, as by the Independent Report recommendations, are still coaching, athletes who are not supposed to train are still training! They often go to some remote areas, where nobody can see them, but sometimes they don’t! Sometimes they even train openly, using the facilities at the national team training camps such as Kislovodsk and others.
No other changes took place, neither on the national team, nor in the ARAF. They try to make it look like a lot of things have changed, but it is merely an imitation and faking. They put Borzakovskiy as a new head coach of the national team, but he does not do anything, really, he does not make any decisions. There are bigger people behind him, who are part of the “old team”, and these are the ones who make all the decisions and tell Borzakovskiy what he should do.
Some athletes who have had the “green light” previously, have not competed the entire year of 2016, as they were under the staring look by WADA. At the same time, the clean athletes, who did compete at the nationals and finished top 3 this year, did not make it to the national team because the spots were reserved for those, who used to have the “green light”, even though they haven’t competed for the entire year!
Now I get back to the two categories of athletes I mentioned above:
The 2-nd category from above, the top athletes, – they are now under a staring look by WADA, what makes it harder for them to dope. And there are, in fact, some clean athletes on the national team, but I would bet that there are about 5% of them who are clean.
The 1-st category from above, the emerging elite athletes, who are not on the national team, are now not being tested at all, because the Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s licence has been withdrawn. And so, the doping usage among those who are not top-3 athletes, has increased dramatically now, since they all understand that they will not be tested. When there was RusADA, athletes who did not have the “green light” were afraid that they will be tested, and some of them did not dope or doped very carefully. Now, since there is no RusADA any more, they dope like crazy, not being afraid to get caught!
Unfortunately, I belong to this “emerging elite athletes” group. The group of athletes, who are not part of the national team, but finish close to the top-3 at the nationals. I was banned for nothing, never used any kind of doping, never been tested positive, or even had any suspicions. And now I have to compete against all these dirty athletes, who are not even being tested by RusADA any more. My situation is deplorable indeed.
Overall, there is no what was called by the IAAF the «anti-doping culture» in Russia whatsoever.
When someone says that he is not doping, he is being laughed at. People will literally laugh at him and call him a lier. Nobody would believe him, if he says he is not doping. People here believe, that it is impossible to train without doping. Doping is something that is accepted as a common thing among the athletes in Russia. People also think that all these doping scandals against Russian athletes is just a big set up by the USA. People say: «everybody in the world are using doping, especially the Americans, but they have made Russia to be a scape-goat». This conspiracy theory, along with the thorough support of the national team athletes who were disqualified, – are the two dominant ideas among the 98-99% of the Russian athletes and coaches.
Ridiculous, but true. I face a lot of ignorance, laughs, jokes, offenses and even threats because of my anti-doping position.
No right conclusions were made neither in ARAF, nor among the athletes. People are waiting and believe that the Ministry of Sport officials, together with the ARAF officials, will soon make another deal with the IAAF and things will continue on the same way as they were before.
7) In conclusion
I know that I am probably the only one who reads my own blog, but if you just happen to read this, and if you have at least some small power to bring changes, please do something about it. This system is just so corrupted. We need to break it down and restore the honesty and integrity of our sport.
#anti_doping #russia #cleansportco #rocket_science #track_and_field