Whistleblowers Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov describe Russia's sports doping system

The whistleblowers who exposed Russia's doping system in track and field tell their story to The National's Adrienne Arsenault.

Second anti-doping report on track and field to be released Thursday

Whistleblowers describe Russia's sports doping system

8 years ago
Duration 8:54
The whistleblowers who exposed Russia's doping system in track and field tell their story to our Adrienne Arsenault.

Some say what they did was courageous. Others call them traitors.

Either way, the actions of a couple of Russian whistleblowers have led to two reports by the World Anti-Doping Agency's independent commission looking into allegations about doping in track and field. 

The second report is to be released Thursday in Munich.

In its first report, the commission confirmed allegations by the whistleblowers, Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov, who were interviewed by the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault a few days ago. 

Yuliya Rusanova had been a world-class runner representing Russia. Her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, had worked for the Russian anti-doping agency.

Yuliya Rusanova (Stepanova) leads in a women's 800 metres semi-final heat at the IAAF World Championships in 2011. (Lee Jae-Won/Reuters)

In 2010, Vitaly began sending WADA evidence that he said showed the cheating was systemic in Russian athletics, and Vitaly's employer, the Russian anti-doping agency, was not exposing, but, in fact, enabling the cheating.

Vitaly was fired in 2011. Prior to that he had held several positions, including as an adviser to the director of the agency.

In 2013, Yuliya received a two-year ban from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) because of past doping infractions. 

She had started with steroids, in 2007, under her coach's' direction, she said. And she told Arsenault about how she marvelled at how much faster and stronger she became, until she was like a drug addict, believing more in the steroids than herself. 

She says she was hearing from everyone around her that doping was the only way to succeed.

'A deeply rooted culture of cheating'

The WADA commission's investigation didn't begin until December 2014, and only after the Stepanovs went public in a sensational German documentary about their allegations. 

It was one of their contacts at WADA who had put the Stepanovs in touch with the documentary makers at the ARD network, Vitaly told the CBC. "Even at WADA there were people who didn't want this story out," he says.

The WADA commission, headed by Canadian Dick Pound, reported that what the Stepanovs had told them was credible and that Russia had "a deeply rooted culture of cheating."

Involved in that cheating were coaches, officials, athletes' entourages, medical professionals and the state, as well as the athletes themselves. 

The commission also reported that "there appears to be a collective disregard for the athletes' current or future state of health."

The Stepanovs left Russia shortly before the documentary aired, anticipating the response. 

It was tough for them, Yuliya told Arsenault: "All the news stories call me a traitor and not just traitor but a traitor to the Motherland."

For its part, the WADA commission noted that  "many sport organizations treat whistleblowers more harshly than they treat the dopers."

Canadian Dick Pound, author of a report that detailed doping in Russia, is back in front of the media on Thursday in Munich, when WADA releases Pound's followup report. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)

Awaiting the commission's second report

Yuliya is still training, with the hope of competing again, perhaps under the IOC or IAAF flag. 

She tells the CBC that she still would like to compete under the Russian flag, "if people in charge are replaced, and if they treat me differently." But right now she's too afraid for her safety to return to Russia, or  even reveal their current location.

After the documentary aired, Russian officials denied the allegations, pointed to Yuliya's suspension and even suggested the couple's whistleblowing was part of a ploy to get Canadian residency. 

Vitaly says that's not true, that they haven't applied to come to Canada and that no one in Canada is interested in them.

Whistleblower Vitaly Stepanov, seen here with his son Robert, is a former Russian anti-doping agency employee. (Adrienne Arsenault/CBC)

He hopes that the second report will say that the IAAF has been covering up doping, behaving unethically and, by turning a blind eye to cheating, ruined the careers of athletes who compete cleanly.

IAAF documents obtained by The Associated Press hint that this second report may do just that. 

On Tuesday, AP reported that, by 2009, IAAF had evidence "providing shocking insight into the scale and gravity of Russian doping," based on the documents it had obtained.

It quotes from a 2009 letter written by IAAF general secretary Peter Weiss. "Not only are these athletes cheating their fellow competitors, but at these levels are putting their health and even their own lives in very serious danger." 

In his letter, Weiss also told Valentin Balakhnichev, the head of Russian athletics, that Russia needs to take "immediate and drastic action."

Six years later, the IAAF suspended Russia's track and field team from international competition, including the 2016 Olympics.

Last week, Balakhnichev was banned from the sport for life.