'I'm going to fight it,' Russia's Valentin Balakhnichev says of doping scandal allegations
Disgraced former head of Russian athletics tells CBC there's no proof he took money to cover up doping
The man fingered by the World Anti-Doping Association as one of the people "ultimately responsible" for Russia's system of doping in athletics, rejects the watchdog agency's conclusions.
"I have no rights, no instruments to promote doping in Russia. It's impossible because of the constitution of my federation," Valentin Balakhnichev told CBC news in Moscow in his first video interview with foreign media since WADA's final report into doping in international athletics was released last week.
Balakhnichev, who was head of the All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF) from 1991 until his resignation last February, acknowledged that doping was happening among Russian athletes but rejected the idea that it was supported by the state or public organizations like ARAF.
"It's a problem of athletes and coaches, as in many countries," he said.
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Balakhnichev also served as treasurer of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Two weeks ago, that association's ethics committee banned him from international sport for life for his alleged role in the doping scandal.
"Corruption was embedded in the organization," the WADA report said of the IAAF.
Balakhnichev was interviewed live Wednesday night on Echo Moscow, an independent radio station. He had called the station offering to tell his side of the story.
CBC was the only other media present, guests of Echo, and surprised Balakhnichev on his way into the interview.
"I'm Susan with Canadian television," I began. "How are you?"
"I'm bad," he said wryly.
At first, Balakhnichev refused to speak with us, saying, "Why would I, after the document of Mr. Pound?"
Canadian Dick Pound is the former head of WADA and the author of the recent report.
I can sacrifice more, only for this reason: participation of [the] Russian nation … in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.- Valentin Balakhnichev , former head of Russian athletics federation
But later on, Balakhnichev agreed to answer a few questions, playing nice and saying he was heartened to hear Pound suggest that it was "possible" Russian athletes could participate in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.
"I never like to criticize him because his last words in the report and his press conference — that Russia have time to [recover] and participate in the Olympic Games," Balakhnichev said. "I can sacrifice more, only for this reason: participation of [the] Russian nation … in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro."
In Russia, Balakhnichev is 'tainted'
On Wednesday, WADA issued a news release, saying it has appointed two international experts who will work along with the U.K. anti-doping agency to help the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) become compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code and "re-establish public confidence in the Russian anti-doping program." A third international expert will join RUSADA's newly formed board.
"There is much work to be done if RUSADA is to become compliant again," WADA director-general David Howman said in the release.
Meanwhile, Balakhnichev has lost almost everything: his job, his reputation and at least 1.8 million euros in a Monaco bank account that French authorities have seized.
Where's the proof?- Valentin Balakhnichev
State media aren't interested in his story anymore, we're told, because he is "tainted," accused of tarnishing Russia's reputation. A German television documentary on ARD implicated him in a scheme with others to extort money from Russian athletes to hide their doped-up samples.
He calls the documentary a "set up — no facts, all fantasy."
"There are a lot of words but no proof that I got money or sent money or took money from athletes. Where's the proof?" he said Wednesday.
'I'm going to fight it'
Part of the WADA report includes allegations that Lamine Diack, former president of the IAAF, was "friends" with Russian President Vladimir Putin and was quoted as saying there would have to be a "deal" to exact Putin's co-operation in anti-doping measures.
Balakhnichev scoffs at that suggestion, saying the two were not close.
"Mr. Putin has a million friends like that," he said.
Pushed, he says, "You have very big discussion about Marion Jones, remember? [Lance] Armstrong, but nobody from us [said] that president of U.S.A. is guilty in this kind of business. It's totally, totally unfair."
(Track and field star Jones and cyclist Armstrong both admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.)
As he wrapped up our impromptu conversation, Balakhnichev said his only job now is to defend himself — daily. French police have launched an investigation into corruption at the IAAF, and Balakhnichev says he will speak to them if and when they come to Moscow.
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"I'm going to fight it," he said. "I'm not afraid of anything." And that includes going to jail, he says.
"Will you speak to us again?" I ask.
"That depends on how you write your report," he says smiling, then pauses.
"How did you convince me to do this interview, anyway?"