Russian athletes will have to give their medals away if doping confirmed

A host of Russian athletes that excelled at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 could well have their medals stripped if the latest doping scandal comes to fruition.

It is believed that 14 Russian Olympians are in the spotlight after retrospective investigations into samples provided back in 2008 were re-examined using new methods.

However, the latest news in the scandal details that the Russians could actually have to part company with the medals they won and hand them over to fellow athletes.

A number of British athletes would be in line to win medals after finishing fourth in the Beijing Olympics.

Andrew Steele was part of Britain’s 4x400m men’s relay team and has stated that he and his compatriots deserve the medals if doping is proven.

“I don’t want to get carried away until the news is officially confirmed but right now my emotions are a bizarre mixture of happiness and anger,” he said.

“It is very unusual to celebrate something as special as an Olympic medal eight years on and of course I’ve missed out on standing on the podium at the Olympic Stadium in Beijing.

“We were quite a young team in Beijing but we were frustrated to finish fourth, because I think we ran the fastest 4x400m time ever in an Olympics that didn’t earn a medal.

“To be honest, we didn’t expect Russia to be a threat. We thought if we ran 2:58 we’d get a medal but the guy who is alleged to have doped ran a 43.4 sec 400m, which was incredibly fast.

“After that we had our suspicions. I can’t help thinking how much an Olympic medal would have changed our lives.”

Steele also said that those athletes that potentially missed out on a medal due to the doping of others should be allowed to stand on the podium at the Rio Games this summer in a feat of recognition.

“Definitely. Not only would it be a nice consolation prize for all us athletes who were deprived of a rightful medal but it would show that the IOC are acknowledging the issue,” he said.

The Russian athletes thought to be implicated in the scandal include high-jumper Anna Chicherova, runner Denis Alekseyev and walk bronze medallist Denis Nizhegorodov.

Vladimir Putin and Sharapova sponsor criticize WADA

Sports equipment and clothing manufacturer Head has backed Maria Sharapova over her use of meldonium.

Sharapova is set to face a hearing after testing positive for the banned substance, despite the recent admission by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that there is ‘currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times’ for the drug.

WADA confirmed earlier this week that athletes who tested positive for meldonium before 1 March could avoid bans, but the International Tennis Federation said Sharapova’s case will proceed.

Meldonium was added to banned substances list from January 1, with the Russian subsequently failing a test at January’s Australian Open.

Head chief executive and chairman, Johan Eliasch, said: “It is now quite clear that WADA made the decision to ban meldonium based solely upon the alleged prevalence of use among Eastern European and Russian athletes.”

“This highlights a wholly flawed decision-making process by WADA whereby the ban on meldonium has no justification.”

“Until clinical testing is undertaken to prove that meldonium has indeed performance-enhancing potential, WADA should provide amnesty to athletes who had been taking the drug at the direction of a doctor for a proven medical condition, if not all athletes.”

Over 170 athletes have tested positive for meldonium since it was added to the list, and with WADA admitting it’s uncertain how long the drug remains in the body support for Sharapova is growing.

Ex-Russian men’s tennis star Marat Safin has given his backing to his compatriot.

“I believe that Maria is a professional and a team of professionals is working with her,” he said.

“I also believe that some sort of a technical mistake could be behind her situation with meldonium.

“It takes meldonium quite some time to leave the body system, up to three months. Meldonium remained in the body systems of many Russian athletes, who tested positive for the drug.”

“Perhaps they consumed the drug in September or October. It all depends on the individual physical peculiarities of the body system of an athlete.”

“In some cases, meldonium dehydrated from the body system and in some it did not.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin has also criticized WADA for not properly researching meldonium to understand how much time the drug takes to leave the system.

When speaking on a phone-in on Russian television, the Russian president said “there was no proper data” available to WADA on meldonium use and that WADA moved too quickly to ban the drug.

While he did not think Russian athletes were being targeted by WADA, he re-iterated that meldonium was not a performance enhancing drug.

“This substance was never considered as doping,” Putin said. “It doesn’t influence the result. That’s totally certain. It just keeps the heart muscles in good condition under high load.”

With the meldonium case still hanging over Sharapova, she has chosen not to enter the upcoming 2016 French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros despite being listed as eligible to compete.

Sharapova hasn’t played since the Australian Open and her participation at the 2016 Olympics in Rio remains in doubt.

Despite support from elsewhere, the former world number one has seen other sponsors distance themselves from her, with TAG Heuer saying it wouldn’t seek to extend its sponsorship with the Russian even if she received an amnesty from WADA.

Sharapova’s previous contract with the Swiss watch maker expired on December 31 2015.

Ethiopia told to test 200 athletes before November by WADA or face suspension

The World Anti-Doping Agency has turned its attention to Ethiopian athletics, with the African country told to conduct 200 drug tests on its competitors before November or face possible sanctions.

The sport’s reputation has been dragged through the mud in recent times, with Russian athletes still banned from competition and the organization turning up the heat on Kenya also.

With the Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro only months away, ensuring strict doping protocols are in place has become a priority for WADA and the International Association of Athletics Federations.

With three Ethiopian runners provisionally suspended from competing last month and a host of others under investigation, a major overhaul of the nation’s doping structures is set to occur.

As a result, 200 athletes will undergo tests between now and November, with the process set to start almost immediately.

“We are told that we could be banned from the IAAF if we don’t comply with the request,” national track team doctor Ayalew Tilahun said.

The African country’s government is set to provide $300,000 to fund the testing, with WADA officials to visit Ethiopia in early June, potentially alongside IAAF President Sebastian Coe, to check on progress.

The timing of the tests seems slightly peculiar, with the November deadline much later than the upcoming Olympics and Ethiopian athletes potentially competing in Brazil before being tested internally.

Ethiopia is clearly a nation that the IAAF have identified as needing to upgrade doping procedures, with Coe in the past admitting the country’s current structure was in need of ‘critical care’.

WADA reportedly visited Ethiopian doping facilities in December 2015 and were shocked by poor standards, giving them a ‘zero’ rating.

Ethiopian 1500m world champion Abeba Aregawi tested positive for meldonium earlier this year, however the runner now represents Sweden.

Russia is yet to find out whether its athletes will be restored to international action in time to participate at the Olympics.

With Russia banned, US dominates World Indoor Athletics Championships

The United States dominated the final day of the World Indoor Athletics Championships on Sunday, winning five gold medals to complete their best ever showing in the event.

With Russia banned from competing, US athletes took full advantage winning gold in the men’s 1,500m, the men’s and women’s 4x400m relays, the men’s long jump and women’s high jump.

The host nation finished on top of the medal table with 13 golds, six silver and four bronze.

Ethiopia, who had been warned ahead of the event it could be banned unless it improves its anti-doping regime, finished second in the table after winning two golds on the final day.

3,000m star Genzebe Dibaba successfully defended her title, while her compatriot Yomif Kejelcha won the men’s event over the same distance.

“Doping is not good news for athletes,” Dibaba said after her race. “I think it is altitude and hard training which is responsible for success.”

American teenager Vashti Cunningham confirmed her status as a rising star in the sport as she took gold in the women’s high jump.

The 18-year-old won gold with a leap of 1.96m ahead of Ruth Beitia of Spain in second place and Poland’s Kamila Licwinko in third.

Cunningham, the daughter of legendary Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, said: “I did not think that I would be here right now at 18 years old. It means a lot to be the world champion this young.”

The event attracted over 39,000 over the four days of competition and IAAF President Sebastian Coe said the attendances were a big boost to athletics after months of scandal, although he admitted the absence of Russian athletes was a ‘sad moment for our sport’.

“It hasn’t stopped this from being a fantastic athletic experience for spectators and athletes alike,” said Coe. “It shows you that the sport is still very strong.”

“Nobody is denying the challenges that lie ahead to regain trust, but this has been a pretty good start.”

The challenges faced by the sport were highlighted again at the weekend after it was revealed 2013 European Championship silver-medalist Nadezhda Kotlyarova has tested positive for the banned drug meldonium.

The 26-year-old sprinter is the thirteenth Russian athlete to have been caught using meldonium since it was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency on January 1, including world tennis star Maria Sharapova and speed skating Olympic gold-medalist Semion Elistratov.

Kotlyarova denies any wrongdoing: “The concentration of the substance which was found is very small – 25 nanograms. I stopped taking this stuff long before it was banned,” she said.

“I consider myself innocent, we are victims of circumstance. It’s a real shame, because this is an Olympic year, and this is how they knock people off their tracks.”

The Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF) remains under pressure to prove it is compliant with anti-doping standards after being suspended from international competition following revelations of wide-spread cheating and corruption.

The IAAF will decide in May whether to lift the suspension, but if it remains in place Russian athletes will miss the Olympics which start in Rio de Janeiro on August 5.

Maria Sharapova dropped as UN goodwill ambassador after doping scandal

Shamed Russian tennis superstar Maria Sharapova has received another blow following the recent doping scandal, with the United Nations suspending her status as a goodwill ambassador.

The 28-year-old was catapulted into the global limelight earlier this month after admitting she failed a drugs test at the Australian Open.

Sharapova tested positive for recently outlawed substance meldonium, which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited substances list on January 1st.

The Russian claims that she has been described the drug by her doctor in recent years as an answer to health issues, but WADA state meldonium enhances athletic performance.

The United Nations Development Programme has released a statement clarifying that Sharapova will not represent the organization until the doping investigation concludes.

“The UNDP remains grateful to Maria Sharapova for her support of our work, especially around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster recovery,” a spokesperson said.

“However, in light of Ms Sharapovaís recent announcement, we last week suspended her role as a goodwill ambassador and any planned activities while the investigation continues.”

Sharapova became a UN goodwill ambassador in February 2007, signing a symbolic $1 salary, and has been a prominent figure for the body over nine years.

Much of her work for the United Nations has been based around assisting the survivors of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the Russian has donated $100,000 in the past to youngsters impacted by the nuclear accident.

Sharapova has family roots in the region, with her parents from the Belarusian city of Gomel.

The shun from the UN follows on from a number of commercial deals with the tennis star being cancelled by leading global companies such as Nike, Porsche and TAG Heuer.

The news will be another blow to Sharapova personally and sully her reputation further given the criteria needed to become a UN goodwill ambassador.

The organization states that ambassadors are selected based on their integrity, personality and conduct.

Sharapova could be banned for up to four years for the use of meldonium, with her participation in this summer’s Olympic Games looking increasingly bleak.

The investigation over her use of the drug is likely to be based around her motives for taking it and the information and guidance provided to her by advisors and doctors.

Support from the tennis community has been mixed, with Serena Williams offering words of encouragement while the likes of Murray and Nadal have spoken about the need for a ban.

When asked whether he personally read all communications on anti-doping, Nadal had replied: “To be honest I don’t read it. I have my doctor that I have confidence in. My doctor is the doctor of the Spanish tennis federation for a lot of years. He is the doctor of all the Spanish tennis players so I have full confidence in him. And I never take anything that he doesn’t know.

“I am 100% confident with my team and at the same time, I know all the things that I am taking so it is difficult to imagine that something like this can happen. But it is obvious that mistakes can happen – everyone can make mistakes.”

Nadal’s comments about not knowing what’s on the banned list himself are an important reminder that elite sports stars are as much a product of their own talent as they are of the teams that support them, and Sharapova’s defence hinges on this fact that she herself did not know that meldonium was banned and that she trusted her doctors.

What is Meldonium and how many more athletes will be suspended like Sharapova?

The news of Maria Sharapova’s failed drug test has seen the world’s gaze focus on the little-known meldonium, with fears that a host of other Russian sports stars are set for a similar fate.

The tennis star has been at the center of media attention over the last 24 hours, with the level of blame that should be applied to the 28-year-old still to be determined.

Sharapova has been banned indefinitely by the International Tennis Federation as an investigation takes place, while the affluent sportswoman has seen backing from major sponsors such as Nike and Porsche rescinded.

However, the Russian star claimed that she had been prescribed meldonium for health issues, spanning back to 2006.

“I was getting sick very often, and I had a deficiency in magnesium and a family history of diabetes, and there were signs of diabetes,” Sharapova said.

“That is one of the medications, along with others, that I received. I was first given the substance back in 2006. I had several health issues going on at the time.”

Meldonium is a drug that is prescribed to help deal with heart problems and blood flow, and as such the reasoning behind Sharapova’s use of it adds up.

Despite this, the World Anti-Doping Agency stated as long as six months ago that meldonium was set to be banned, even if this only came into effect on January 1.

Former WADA chief Dick Pound stated that Sharapova and her advisors should have acted quicker.

“You are taking something on a list. I am sorry, that is a big mistake – of course she should have known,” he said.

“She is taking something that is not generally permitted in her country of residence [USA] for medical purposes, so she says, so there must be a doctor following this.

“All the tennis players were given notification of it and she has a medical team somewhere. That is reckless beyond description.”

Meldonium is manufactured by Latvian company Grindeks, who state its course of treatment should be four-to-six weeks. It is recommended to be used no more than for three periods per year.

Sharapova’s attorney John Haggerty has been quick to defend the Russian, stating she used mildronate, which contains meldonium, only when prescribed by her doctor.

Although the tennis star is facing a ban of up to four years, Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpischev believes Sharapova should still be allowed to compete in this summer’s Olympic Games.

“I think that it’s nonsense,” he said.

“Athletes take what their physiotherapists advise them. I believe that Sharapova will still have a chance to play at the Olympics though we will see how things are going to develop.”

Sharapova is seemingly set to be followed by some of her compatriots in testing positive for meldonium.

The prohibited substance was found in a doping test of Russian bicycle racer Eduard Vorganov last month, while former European ice dancing champion and Olympic gold medallist Ekaterina Bobrova has also failed a test this year.

Russian speed skater Pavel Kulizhnikov’s coach, Dmitry Dorofeev, has confessed that the athlete has tested positive for meldonium, without stating specifics of when this happened.

The Russian sports minister has said Sharapova’s case could be the tip of the iceberg.

“There won’t be a huge wave but I suspect there could be several more cases,” he said.

“Maybe this will wake up our trainers and federation a bit. Unfortunately, a lot of athletes took this medicine.”

Despite Sharapova’s claims that she used meldonium for medical reasons, German anti-doping expert Mario Thevis confirmed the drug can “facilitate recovery and enhance physical as well as mental workload capabilities.”

Just how much Sharapova knew about the impact of meldonium remains to be seen and whether it is the tennis star or those advising her that should face the brunt of disciplinary action is to be determined.

However, some prominent members of the sports community have backed Sharapova and showed her sympathy.

Tennis world number one Serena Williams, who has had a hex over the Russian on the court, extended her support for Sharapova.

“I think most people are surprised and shocked by Maria,” she said.

“But, at the same time, I think most people were happy that she was up front and very honest, and showed a lot of courage to admit to what she had done and what she had neglected to look at in terms of the list at the end of the year.

“It’s just taking responsibility, which she admitted she was willing to do, and I just hope for the best for everyone in that situation.”

IAAF bans four officials over Shobukhova doping case

Two top Russian athletics officials and the son of former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) were banned from football for life on Thursday for covering up an elite Russian athlete’s positive dope test.

Ex-IAAF consultant Papa Massata Diack, son of former IAAF boss Lamine, and Russian officials Alexei Melnikov and Valentin Balakhnichev were charged with multiple breaches of anti-doping rules relating to Russian athlete Liliya Shobukhova.

Ex-IAAF anti-doping director Gabriel Dolle has been banned for five years, while Diack, Melnikov and Balakhnichev also face the prospect of hefty fines in addition to their expulsion from the sport.

The bans follow last year’s World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) independent commission report that alleged state-sponsored doping in Russia which resulted in the country being banned from athletics until reforms were implemented.

Balakhnichev says the decision to ban him was politicized and is aimed at discrediting the entire Russian sport.

“Some forces have decided to increase pressure on the Russian sport by taking such a radical decision,” he said.

“The arguments given by the opposite side are far-fetched and inconsistent.”

Balakhnichev is considering appealing the verdict with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland.

His lawyer, Artem Patsev, claimed the decision against his client is based on suggestion rather than facts.

“Not a single fact was given in this decision and at the meeting of the ethics commission – no doubt, this decision is politicized,” said Patsev.

The scandal first came to light in February 2014, when Russian sports agent Andrey Baranov revealed to an IAAF official that Shobukhova had given $490,000 to senior Russian officials in exchange for covering up violations in her athlete biological passport.

Baranov’s revelation to Sean Wallace-Jones potentially compromised his own personal safety, but when he subsequently told ethics commission head, Michael Beloff QC, that some IAAF officials were involved in extorting money there was no turning back.

As Beloff started to investigate, Shobukhova stopped paying bribes and was subsequently banned in Spring 2014.

In December that year a German TV documentary revealed widespread doping in Russian athletics, while French newspaper L’Equipe exposed the extortion of Shobukhova.

All the officials denied any wrongdoing, while many in the sport questioned Baranov and Shobhukhova’s motives in coming forward.

Baranov insists his client deserves great credit for her actions: “Shobukhova was a product of a system which was exposed by WADA where athletes were encouraged to dope or were frozen out,” he said.

“Liliya was also brave to speak out. Not many people know what she did or what she went through.”

Baranov also admitted he still fears the repercussions from speaking out: “Of course I’m worried, but what are you going to do?” he added. “It had to be done for the future.”

Former British athlete David Bedford is a staunch anti-doping campaigner. He praised the Russian duo.

“As horrible and sordid as this case is, our sport is in a better position now knowing this happened than if it had been pushed under the carpet,” said Bedford. “As a sport we have to give credit to Baranov, Shobukhova, and Wallace-Jones who bought this to the ethics commission.”

Athletics will now brace itself for the second part of the WADA report to be published next Thursday. The report, produced by former WADA president Dick Pound, is expected to be even more explosive than the first.

Meanwhile, IAAF representatives are due to land in Russia next week to review progress on reforms made by the All-Russia Athletics Federation (ARAF) and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA).

Lance Armstrong’s former doctor to stand trial in doping crackdown

Lance Armstrong’s former physician Michele Ferrari has been ordered to stand trial for allegedly providing doping assistance to an Italian biathlete.

Daniel Taschler and his father, Gottlieb, a vice-president of the international federation were also indicted by a preliminary judge in Bolzano, Italy, on Wednesday. Taschler senior is accused of advising his son to use Ferrari for doping and contacting the doctor.

Banned for life by the Italian Cycling Federation in 2002, Ferrari recently appealed to a regional court to have the ban quashed, with a decision expected in the next few months.

He also received a life-ban from the United States Anti-Doping Agency after the 2012 case that led to Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.

Doping is a crime in Italy and Ferrari was cleared on appeal in 2006 of criminal charges of distributing banned products to athletes.

Taschler Sr is a vice-president and member of the International Biathlon Union executive board. After the investigation came to light last year, he announced he would cease any activities within the IBU.

Daniel Taschler, 28, was a member of Italy’s B squad when the inquiry started, and he was suspended immediately. His doping allegedly took place in the 2010-11 season. The Taschlers and Ferrari all deny any wrongdoing.

Austrian cross-country skier Harald Wurm has been provisionally suspended amid a doping investigation, a week before the start of the World Cup season.

The Head Coach of the cross-country team, Gerald Heigl, has temporarily stepped down until Wurm’s case is completed but denies being involved.

Police began an investigation during August into alleged doping violations by Wurm and searched the premises of the two-time Olympian.

The federation has seen police files and thinks Wurm has a case to answer. The 31-year-old athlete has been excluded from all team training and competitions, with just over a week to go before the World Cup opener in Ruka, Finland, on 28-29 November.

Heigl’s name also appeared in the files, but the coach has claimed his innocence. He has decided to step down until his name has been cleared.

Wurm won the under-23 world title in 2006 and has four top-10 World Cup finishes. He competed in the sprint events at the 2006 and 2014 Olympics.

Wurm’s teammate, Johannes D¸rr, was banned for life last year by the federation after being dismissed from the Sochi Games 2014 for using the blood-doping agent EPO. If found guilty Wurm will be expelled from the federation.

The case could deal another blow to the damaged image of Austrian cross-country skiing, less than four years before Seefeld hosts the Nordic World Championships.

Former Olympic champion Christian Hoffmann retired in 2009 after being suspended for blood doping, while leading coach Walter Mayer was banned by the International Olympic Committee from Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010.

Mayer did turn up at the 2006 Olympics, leading to an Italian police raid on Austrian team lodgings, in which blood doping equipment and other substances were seized. No Austrians tested positive at the games, but several were later banned for life by the IOC.

WADA says Russia should be banned from athletics

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) published a report on Monday that called for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to suspend Russia from competition.

It said the London 2012 Olympics were “sabotaged” by the “widespread inaction” against Russian athletes with suspicious doping profiles by the the world athletics governing body and the Russian federation.

The investigation by Dick Pound, the former WADA president, has also recommended that five athletes and five coaches be given lifetime doping bans. The report says that Moscow’s anti-doping lab should lose its accreditation.

Pound, who has spent 11 months looking into claims of cheating and cover-up within Russian athletics and the sport’s governing body, has identified “intentional and malicious destruction of more than 1,400 samples by Moscow laboratory officials.”

The report also says there was “sufficient corroborated evidence to conclude that a second laboratory was assisting in the cover-up of positive doping results by way of the destruction of samples.”

Pound said it was probable the doping of athletes had been state-supported: “I don’t see how you could call it anything else,” he said.

“Our conclusion was this couldn’t happen without the knowledge or consent of state authorities. Even though they weren’t running sport, they could not have been unaware.”

“We don’t think Russia is the only country with a doping problem and we don’t think that athletics is the only sport with a doping problem ñ this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

The results were released at the same time that the International Olympic Committee said that the former president of the IAAF Lamine Diack should be provisionally suspended as an honorary member of the IOC.

Diack was arrested last week along with IAAF legal adviser Habib CissÈ and Gabriel DollÈ, the former longstanding head of the IAAF’s anti-doping unit. Prosecutors said they would have arrested Diack’s son and former IAAF marketing consultant, Papa Massata Diack, if he had been in France at the time.

Diack, the IAAF president for 16 years, is accused by French police of accepting more than Ä1m in exchange for covering up positive drug tests.

Pound said he was holding back parts of the report pending the French investigation into IAAF officials but hoped to release more details by the end of the year.

WADA’s recommendations have put the ball back into the court of the IAAF and IOC over what action to take.

German television station ARD had implicated officials in Russia’s athletics federation, anti-doping agency (Rusada) and a WADA-accredited laboratory in Moscow in acts of bribery to hush up positive doping tests, falsify tests and supply banned drugs.

The IAAF’s own independent ethics committee, which has been looking into the Russian claims since the spring of 2014, will conduct hearings in December against Papa Massata Diack, DollÈ, the former IAAF treasurer Valentin Balakhnichev and Alexei Melnikov, the former Russian long-distance head coach.

Interpol has also announced it is to coordinate a global investigation led by France into an alleged international corruption scam involving sports officials as well as athletes suspected of a doping cover-up.

Pound said the report’s findings were a serious bodyblow to the public perception of sport: “The difficulty for all of us is that it doesn’t stop there. The public view will move towards believing all sport is corrupt.

“If you can’t believe results then there is a serious credibility problem. I hope all sports will look at their governance and their anti-doping systems because their existence may be at risk.”