It’s Black Monday for the world of track and field.
An independent report ordered by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) released on Monday “confirmed the existence of widespread cheating through the use of doping substances and methods to ensure, or enhance the likelihood of, victory for athletes and teams.”
The report accuses Russia of sponsoring, covering up, and perpetuating a culture of cheating among athletes and coaches across all levels of the sport.
The report has recommended that the IAAF, track’s international governing body, suspend the ARAF, the All-Russian Athletics Federation.
This could lead to Russia being excluded from the 2016 Olympic Games.
The 325-page report comes down to five main findings.
- A deeply rooted culture of cheating. “The investigation indicates that the acceptance of cheating at all levels is widespread and of long standing. Many of the more egregious offenders appear to be coaches who, themselves, were once athletes and who work in connection with medical personnel.”
- Exploitation of athletes. “As a result of this mindset, an open and accepted series of unethical behaviours and practices has become the norm. In addition, the pursuit of medals and exploitation of athletes for financial gain is well pronounced across Russian athletics. Russian athletes were often willing participants. However, there are documented cases where athletes who did not want to participate in ‘the program’ were informed they would not be considered as part of the federation’s national team for competition.”
- Confirmed athletes cheating. “This report outlines consistent and systematic use of performance enhancing drugs by many Russian athletes. This report also identified a high percentage of athletes who were unwilling to participate in the [independent commission] investigation.”
- Confirmed involvement by doctors, coaches, and laboratory personnel. “This report confirms allegations that some Russian doctors and/or laboratory personnel acted as enablers for systematic cheating along with athletics coaches. This report also identifies the intentional and malicious destruction of more than 1,400 samples by Moscow laboratory officials after receiving written notification from WADA to preserve target samples.”
- Corruption and bribery within IAAF. “This report also identifies corruption and bribery practices at the highest levels of international athletics, evidence of which has been transmitted to Interpol for appropriate investigation.”
The report adds that its complete findings will not be revealed until the relevant authorities decide whether to bring criminal charges against certain people. The report’s full findings are set to be released by year-end.
Said another way, this report comes up short of naming names, though that information looks set to be released in the next several weeks.
Last week former IAAF president Lamine Diack was placed under formal investigation by French authorities after France’s financial prosecutor accused Diack of receiving “bribes in 2011 to cover up positive doping tests of Russian athletes,” according to The Guardian.
Sebastian Coe, the current IAAF president who is also one of Britain’s most decorated track and field athletes, called these allegations “abhorrent.”
WADA announced in August that it would launch this investigation, after a report from the German broadcaster ARD/WDR said about a third of all medals in long-distance track events between the 2001 world championships and the 2012 Olympics were won by athletes with suspicious drug tests.
Suspected medalists included 55 gold-medal winners.
Later that same month, Turkish runner Asli Cakir-Alptekin was stripped of her gold medal in the 1,500 meters from the 2012 Olympics after being caught cheating. Cakir-Alptekin is barred from the sport until January 2021.
But Monday’s report is merely the latest black mark in what have been several long months for the sport.
In the US, distance running had a tumultuous summer after a report from ProPublica accused Alberto Salazar — the head of Nike’s Oregon Project professional distance-running group and the preeminent distance coach in the US — of improperly experimenting with treatments for some of his athletes, including Galen Rupp, the most successful US distance runner in a generation and a silver medalist in the 10,000 meters at the London Olympics.
Salazar later issued an extremely lengthy and detailed response pushing back against the allegations made by ProPublica.
Few fans will then be totally surprised by allegations of cheating in track and field, which has a long and ignominious history of drugs tainting international championships and the sport’s world-record book.
But Monday’s report — which could lead to the exclusion of one of the sport’s most successful countries from the next Olympics — could take this long and depressing history to another level.