Russia track and field banned from Olympics

June 18th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Russia’s track and field team cannot compete at the Rio Olympics because the country has not given up its doping culture but exceptions will be considered for clean athletes, world athletics body IAAF says.

IAAF president Sebastian Coe said after a governing council meeting in Vienna on Friday “although good progress has been made, the IAAF Council was unanimous that RusAF had not met the reinstatement conditions”.

The council found “Russian athletes could not credibly return to international competition without undermining the confidence of their competitors and the public”, Coe added.

The IAAF had met to consider whether Russia had set up a functioning anti-doping structure in response to a report by world anti-doping agency WADA that detailed systematic cheating in Russian athletics.

“The deep-seated culture of tolerance or worse for doping that got RusAF suspended in the first place seems not to have changed materially,” said Rune Andersen, head of the IAAF’s Russia task force.

There were still no strong anti-doping infrastructure in Russia and doping tests were still being hampered, Anderson added.

This is a good decision. All countries probably have some athletes who have cheated with drugs. But in Russia the cheating is state sponsored and sanctioned. Unless Russia remains suspended, there is no incentive for them to genuinely clean up – and other countries would seek to emulate them.

Now the IAAF is acting with some integrity, the question is whether other bodies will do similar.

Sharapova’s unlikely story

March 9th, 2016 at 2:23 pm by David Farrar

Scotty Stevenson writes at NZ Herald:

Tennis Uber Star Maria Sharapova walked fashionably late into an LA hotel today and announced to the world that she had failed a drugs test at the Australian Open.

She said she took responsibility for that, and then proceeded to run away as fast as she could from her mea culpa.

Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, a Latvian pharmaceutical used to treat angina and myocardial ischemia, a condition which leads to a lack of blood flow to the heart and a reduction in oxygen to the body. The drug is widely available throughout Russia but is not available in the United States where Sharapova is based. When combined with other compounds it is claimed meldonium can aid exercise capacity.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned the substance in December 2015 saying they had evidence that athletes were using the drug with the intention of enhancing performance.

Sharapova claimed today she had been using Meldonium, also known as Mildronate, since 2006 to combat a magnesium deficiency and an irregular EKG. She says it was first prescribed by her family doctor. It is not known whether Sharapova suffered from angina or from Myocardial Ischemia.

Very suspicious. She lives in the US, but gets this one drug from her family doctor in Russia.

“I received an email on 22 December from Wada about the changes happening to the banned list and you can see prohibited items, and I didn’t click on that link.”

“I didn’t click on that link.” Why not? Surely a professional athlete whose very livelihood depends upon knowing what substances and supplements can and cannot be taken would click on a link that provides that very information.

Almost certainly.

She also says she took it to combat diabetes as her family has a history of it.  Yes she really looks like diabetes is a real concern for her.

Should all athletics records be reset?

January 14th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

UK Athletics wants all world records to be reset due to the sport’s doping crisis and has announced it will seek to bring in a lifetime ban for any athlete guilty of a serious drugs violation.

The governing body for British athletics has published A Manifesto for Clean Athletics, which calls for hard-hitting measures to be brought in to clean up the sport. It comes after the doping scandal in which Russia has been banned from international athletics, with allegations that former officials from the sport’s world governing body the International Association of Athletics Federations also took money to cover up positive tests from Turkish and Moroccan athletes. Kenya, one of the most high-profile countries in distance running, is also at the centre of doping-related allegations.

Their recommendation is:

A call to the IAAF to investigate the implications of drawing a line under all pre-existing sport records – for example, by adjusting event rules – and commencing a new set of records based on performances in the new Clean Athletics era.

I doubt it would be agreed to, but I think it is a good idea.

Far too many of the world records of the last 30 years were done through doping.

Make them all historical records, but set up a new set of world records from say 2018 onwards, once the sport is truly clean.

Russia suspended from athletics 24-1

November 15th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

CNN reports:

The International Association of Athletics Federations voted Friday to provisionally suspend Russia as a member amid a doping scandal, the IAAF reported on its website.

The action will keep the All-Russia Athletic Federation, the nation’s leading athletic association, out of international competition for an indefinite period that may include the2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.

“This has been a shameful wake-up call and we are clear that cheating at any level will not be tolerated,” IAAF President Sebastian Coe said.

“Today we have been dealing with the failure of ARAF and made the decision to provisionally suspend them, the toughest sanction we can apply at this time,” Coe said. “But we discussed and agreed that the whole system has failed the athletes, not just in Russia, but around the world.”

The 24-1 vote was taken by teleconference. Russia was not allowed to vote

This is the right call, as noting short of this will convince the Russian Government that it needs to take action over drug cheating, rather than cover it up and facilitate it.

Very sad for the clean Russian athletes. They need to hope that enough changes occur so that they can compete in the Rio Olympics.

Will Russia be banned?

November 10th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

An international anti-doping commission recommended on Monday that Russia’s Athletics Federation be banned from the sport over widespread doping offences – a move that could see the powerhouse Russian team excluded from next year’s Rio Olympics.

The commission, set up by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), found a “deeply rooted culture of cheating” in Russian athletics. But it also identified what it called systemic failures in the global governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

The international police body Interpol said it would coordinate a global investigation into suspected corruption and doping in athletics.

The commission said in its report that the London 2012 Olympics had been “sabotaged” by the widespread inaction of international and national anti-doping authorities.

“For 2016 our recommendation is that the Russian Federation be suspended, in fact one of our hopes is that they will volunteer that, so that they can take the remedial work in time to make sure that Russian athletes can compete under a new framework if you like,” Dick Pound, president of WADA, told a news conference in Geneva.

Russia finished second behind the United States in the medal table at the 2012 Olympics, with 17 medals, eight of them gold, and has long been one of the chief players in track and field.

Russia really is regressing to the old Soviet Union, which of course was world leaders in doping.

Guest Post on Accepting Drugs in Sport: the Case of Pro-Cycling

October 30th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by Mike Wilkinson, a former Ironman tri-athlete and a keen Tour de France follower:

The downfall of Lance Armstrong in the sport of professional cycling now seems complete.  Yet, as the dust settles, many are left wondering what’s next for pro-cycling: can it recover its credibility?  Or will it once more be tarnished by the brush of doping?  There seems little cause for hope, unless the Armstrong scandal helps the public reach a new acceptance of drugs in particular sports like pro-cycling.

Much has been written about Lance Armstrong. including allegations that he’s brought the sport into disrepute.  Although I’ll say that we can hardly expect successful pro-cyclists to behave like Mother Teresa, I have little to add about the man’s career.  I think, however, that there’s one important thing to keep in mind: the significant role of drugs in professional cycling goes well beyond just Lance Armstrong.

Before Armstrong, so many of cycling’s big names have tested positive for drugs.  They include Armstrong’s former rival, Jan Ullrich, five times Tour winner, Miguel Indurain and even the man who’s arguably the greatest road cyclist of all time, Eddy Merckx.  

Drugging does not seem confined to just individual athletes, either.  In 1998, the year before Armstrong won his first Tour de France, pro-cycling went through the Festina Affair.  It started when a team car that was stopped by the authorities at a border crossing and was found to be packed to the gunwales with EPO and other performance-enhancing drugs.  The case sent shockwaves throughout the sport and resulted in the trial of 10 people, including cyclists, team doctors and team managers   There were plenty of calls for pro-cycling to clean up its act following that fiasco, too.

But why is doping so rife in pro-cycling?  For my part, I think people need to appreciate just what the sport involves.  In the Tour de France, for example, competitors ride approximately 3500 kilometres.  Over that distance, the winner sets a phenomenal average speed of around 40kmh. And even with that pace, riders get just two rest days through the 23 days of the race  

I don’t doubt how hard it is to be a professional sports person in any code, but surely there are few sports where competitors operate so near the upper bounds of human endurance.  Cyclists must face a massive temptation to seek performance from wherever they can find it.

Some are calling for some sort of amnesty in which riders can come clean.  Whether or not that happens, you have to wonder just how long it will take for riders will start doping or not.  When someone in a race performs well, everyone else is going to think that person’s doping and they should, too.

Do others share my scepticism that the sport can clean itself up?  Yes, including some pretty important people.  One big name sponsor Dutch bank, Rabobank, has been involved in cycling for 17 years.  Yet, after the Armstrong scandal, it announced it was ending its sponsorship of both men’s and women’s professional cycling, saying that it was “no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport.”

What does it mean for something to be a fair sport?  Surely, it’s that players know the rules and abide by them.  What if the rules were changed so that a level of doping was acceptable?  If everyone was able to take drugs, wouldn’t the sport still be fair?

While cyclists might by themselves reach this point, it’s doubtful that the general public would accept any sort of doping.  This is my reason for writing this post for Kiwiblog and not for some cycling forum.  Isn’t it time that we woke up and ask whether, for some particular sports, a level of doping might be ok?

For my 2c I think it is desirable that top titles are won by those who are the best athletes, not have the best chemists. However it would be great to have a “main” Olympics and a “freak” Olympics where anything goes from drugs to biotechnology – and have the winners from both compete against each other 🙂