World·Analysis

'Stunning' Russian Olympic doping report prompts calls for action

Just as the World Anti-Doping Agency Foundation Board meeting was nearing that dizzy phase before lunch, the New York Times published yet another chilling story about Russia’s systematic doping program. Indigestion surely followed.

'Only way Russia will change is if the world understands just how endemic the doping is,' whistleblower says

Skier Beckie Scott receives the gold medal for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games five-kilometre pursuit at a ceremony in Vancouver on June 25, 2004. Scott, who took the bronze medal in the event, was elevated to gold after Russian skiers failed their drug tests. (Lyle Stafford/Reuters)

Oh, the timing must hurt.

Just as the World Anti-Doping Agency foundation board meeting was nearing that dizzy phase before lunch, the New York Times published yet another chilling story about Russia's systematic doping program.

Indigestion surely followed.

The Times story suggested there are dozens of Russian athletes from Sochi, including at least 15 medal winners who were part of "one of the most elaborate — and successful — doping ploys in history."

Cue the angry tweets. Canadian hockey great Hayley Wickenheiser was quick, as always.

Some at WADA were already angry enough with Russia and the accusation about doping in athletics to want to overturn tables. So this news suggesting a doping system targeting multiple sports drove a knife into the hearts of clean athletes everywhere who wondered if their podium moments had been stolen in Sochi.

WADA's athlete representative, Canadian cross country skier Beckie Scott, has been there and felt the hurt.

So, no wonder her voice is among the loudest in trying to call out for stronger investigations into Russia's actions in sports beyond athletics.

"This is stunning," she told CBC News, "and exactly why we have been calling for an expansion of the investigation into Russia."

Moments before the New York Times story went online, Rob Koehler, WADA'S deputy director general, had wrapped up a presentation outlining some of the roadblocks anti-doping officials had faced in trying to work in Russia. One story he recounted was about military cities deemed off-limits to doping control officials without 30-days' notice.

Nothing suspicious there, surely.

In a recent encounter, the doping control officers called the athletes within those cities to ask them to come outside the limits for the testing. Then, while in the midst of the testing, members of the FSB, Russia's security service, showed up and threatened the control officers, telling them their visas would be revoked if they showed up again.

Koehler was frustrated, but factual and polite, in his presentation. You have to imagine there is some seething inside. Why would the Russians be so touchy if there wasn't something worth hiding, ordered to be hidden?

Remember, this isn't a conversation about something that happened a long time ago. This encounter was within the last few months, when Russia was supposedly in the midst of trying to prove to the world that it is cleaning up.

Frankly, it's only because of the work of whistleblowers that the world knows any of these details about Russia.

Former doping control officer Vitaly Stepanov and his sprinter wife, Yulia, have been writing to WADA for years trying to sound the alarm about Russia. It was a brave thing to do, but for a long time, there was no uptake.

It was only when frustration overtook and they took part in a German documentary in 2014 outlining the extent of the cheating and doping that WADA got busy.

Whistleblower Vitaly Stepanov, with his son Robert, says Russia will only clean up its act once the world knows how prevalent doping is in the country. (Adrienne Arsenault/CBC)

CBC News called Vitaly Stepanov on Thursday to see what his reaction was to the revelations in the Times. He's still living in hiding, afraid of the consequences of speaking out, so he is weary. But he sounded a little relieved.

"The truth is strong," he said. "The only way Russia will change is if the world understands just how endemic the doping is."

The date he and so many now wait for is June 17. That's when the IAAF decides if Russia can send its athletics team to Rio. Stepanov knows what he would do.

About the Author

Adrienne Arsenault

Senior Correspondent

Emmy Award-winning journalist Adrienne Arsenault co-hosts The National. Her investigative work on security has seen her cross Canada and pursue stories across the globe. Since joining CBC in 1991, her postings have included Vancouver, Washington, Jerusalem and London.