Rus­sian ‘traitor’ flees Af­ter scan­dal

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

MOSCOW — the sportswoman who blew the whis­tle on dop­ing in Rus­sian ath­let­ics is in hid­ing abroad, pur­sued by a bar­rage of crit­i­cism from for­mer col­leagues and of­fi­cials at home who ac­cuse her of be­tray­ing her coun­try.

Yu­lia Stepanova, an in­ter­na­tional run­ner who was her­self sus­pended for dop­ing of­fences, se­cretly recorded Rus­sian coaches and ath­letes over al­most two years de­scrib­ing how they used per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs.

the 29-year-old’s ev­i­dence formed a ma­jor part of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that led to Rus­sian ath­letes be­ing sus­pended from in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion this month, trig­ger­ing the deep­est cri­sis in Rus­sian sport since the boy­cott-hit 1980 Moscow Olympics.

While her role has been de­scribed as coura­geous by sup­port­ers abroad, at home she has faced ac­cu­sa­tions of be­ing a liar, and of be­tray­ing her coun­try­men for money or in ex­change for a res­i­dence per­mit in a wealthy coun­try.

“She’s a traitor,” said Vladimir Kazarin, Stepanova’s for­mer coach who was named as some­one in­volved in dop­ing in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­port, com­mis­sioned by the World anti-dop­ing agency ( Wada). He de­nies the al­le­ga­tions.

“She be­trayed me, be­trayed her home­land. that’s why she’s a traitor,” Kazarin told Rus­sia’s NTV broad­caster.

Be­fore her ac­cu­sa­tions were made pub­lic last year, Stepanova and her hus­band — who have a child of preschool age — left Rus­sia and moved to Ger­many where they set up home but kept a low pro­file.

Christoph Kopp, the head of the lo­cal ath­let­ics club who helped them set­tle in Ger­many, said they kept their de­tails out of pub­lic records so they could not be traced, and wrote the fam­ily name “Mueller” — one of Ger­many’s most com­mon names — on the door­bell of their home.

“We han­dled the sit­u­a­tion very, very care­fully when they came to Ger­many,” said Kopp, chair­man of the lac Olympia 88 Ber­lin ath­let­ics club.

He said Stepanova and her hus­band were on the move again in Septem­ber this year, leav­ing Ger­many for North amer­ica. Some­one con­nected to Wada had ar­ranged for them to make the move, he said.

Wada did not re­spond to ques­tions about Stepanova. at­tempts by Reuters to track down Stepanova and her hus­band Vi­taly, through col­leagues, ac­quain­tances and in­ter­na­tional sports of­fi­cials were un­suc­cess­ful. It is not known where they are liv­ing. the last pub­licly-avail­able record of her where­abouts was from the Ger­man cap­i­tal, where she was listed as hav­ing com­peted for lac Olympia 88 Ber­lin in a 1,500 me­tres race in July this year.

Rus­sia’s sports au­thor­i­ties have dis­puted some of the Wada re­port’s al­le­ga­tions about dop­ing, but they say they will do ev­ery­thing nec­es­sary to get their ath­letes back into in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, in­clud­ing re­plac­ing the lead­er­ship of their ath­let­ics fed­er­a­tion and re­vamp­ing the na­tional anti-dop­ing agency.

the at­ti­tude in Rus­sia to Stepanova typ­i­fies how many in the coun­try view the scan­dal: they ac­knowl­edge there is a prob­lem, but also be­lieve it has been blown out of pro­por­tion by Rus­sia’s ri­vals for political rea­sons.

Stepanova is a middle-dis­tance run­ner who com­peted for Rus­sia un­til she was her­self handed a twoyear sus­pen­sion on sus­pi­cion of dop­ing in 2013.

She and her hus­band, a for­mer Rus­sian anti-dop­ing agency of­fi­cial, first took on the role of whistle­blow­ers last year, when they fea­tured as wit­nesses in a tv doc­u­men­tary that al­leged wide­spread cor­rup­tion and drug-tak­ing in Rus­sian ath­let­ics.

Hajo Sep­pelt, the jour­nal­ist who made the doc­u­men­tary for Ger­man tv sta­tion ARD, told Reuters the cou­ple — an­tic­i­pat­ing neg­a­tive re- ac­tion — left Rus­sia for Ger­many last year, be­fore the pro­gramme was broad­cast.

“they knew when this story comes out they may have a lot of prob­lems in Rus­sia,” said Sep­pelt, whose doc­u­men­tary prompted Wada to com­mis­sion its in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“they thought that to talk about dop­ing in Rus­sian sports, to talk about wrong­do­ing in Rus­sian sport, is al­ways not a good idea.”

the pre­vail­ing at­ti­tude in Rus­sia, he said, was: “It’s just a ques­tion of hon­our. You don’t do that to your coun­try, you don’t blame it.”

Sep­pelt said he did not know where Stepanova was now and, that if he did, he would not dis­close the in­for­ma­tion. Rus­sian sports of­fi­cials said they did not know any­thing about any threats against Stepanova or her hus­band that could have com­pelled them to seek refuge abroad.

“they need to get cit­i­zen­ship (in a for­eign coun­try) and that’s why they made this up. We don’t threaten them,” said anna Glushenko, a Rus­sian ath­let­ics Fed­er­a­tion spokes­woman.

a spokes­woman for the Rus­sian Sport Min­istry said Stepanova had not con­tacted them to re­port any threats. Stepanova is the star wit­ness for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian ath­let­ics dop­ing. Her name is men­tioned 141 times in the text of the 323-page re­port pro­duced by in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Her ev­i­dence in­cluded text mes­sages, emails, tes­ti­mony she gave in in­ter­views to in­ves­ti­ga­tors as well as se­cret video and au­dio tapes she recorded be­tween Fe­bru­ary 2013 and Novem­ber 2014 in lo­ca­tions rang­ing from a ho­tel in Kyr­gyzs­tan to Moscow’s Kazan­sky rail­way sta­tion and the ath­let­ics fed­er­a­tion of­fices.

the re­port cites Stepanova’s tes­ti­mony as ev­i­dence for dop­ing al­le­ga­tions against sev­eral se­nior Rus­sian ath­let­ics fed­er­a­tion coaches, and some ath­letes.

In one episode de­scribed in the re­port, Stepanova se­cretly videoed a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween her­self and Kazarin about her train­ing regime.

“that is why we only have oxan­drolone and pri­mobolan and, at some point in the early stages, just a lit­tle, you can do a few am­poules of EPO, of course. But make sure there are no checks at the time, noth­ing like that,” Kazarin said, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script.

Oxan­drolone and EPO, also known as ery­thro­poi­etin, are listed as banned sub­stances un­der Wada rules. In the same video, the re­port says, Kazarin can be seen hand­ing over 15 tablets to Stepanova, and ad­vises her on when to take them. they were later tested in a lab­o­ra­tory and found to be oxan­drolone, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

asked by Reuters what he thought about the role Stepanova played in the re­port, Rus­sian Sports Min­is­ter Vi­taly Mutko said: “I would like to hope that she had a gen­uine de­sire to re­store health to the sport, if that is what is re­ally mo­ti­vat­ing her.

“But if she is driven by some kind of mer­can­tile things, money, or a res­i­dence per­mit in some coun­try, Canada for ex­am­ple, then I don’t know.”

He said if she gen­uinely wished to tackle dop­ing in her sport, she could have ap­proached a Rus­sian fed­er­a­tion of­fi­cial with her con­cerns. “There was no need to make a film,” he said.

ta­tiana lebe­deva, vice-pres­i­dent of the Rus­sian ath­let­ics Fed­er­a­tion, said Stepanova and her hus­band were try­ing to make them­selves look like vic­tims.

“When they said they were go­ing to be threat­ened they were mak­ing this up in ad­vance. and they ended up leav­ing. there was noth­ing, no threats,” said lebe­deva.

“Of course (in­no­cent) ath­letes who now suf­fer wouldn’t say thank you to them. they weren’t in­volved in any­thing but they were ac­cused of it by an ath­lete who had used dop­ing. When she was caught she said that all of them did it.”

Sep­pelt, the doc­u­men­tary-maker who worked with Stepanova and her hus­band, said they were mo­ti­vated by a gen­uine de­sire to prove that there was wrong­do­ing in­side Rus­sian ath­let­ics.

“For me, they were the most im­pres­sive whistle­blow­ers in the his­tory of sport.

“the most im­pres­sive. We didn’t pay them any­thing. We didn’t ask them to do so. they wanted to prove it.”

Since the re­lease of the Wada­com­mis­sioned re­port and the up­roar that fol­lowed, the cou­ple have made only one pub­lic com­ment, is­sued last Satur­day via the same Ger­man tv sta­tion that pro­duced the doc­u­men­tary. “We are at a safe place,” they said. “that truth in sports mat­ters makes us feel glad. We don’t re­gret any­thing we have done.”

— ibnlive.com

YU­LIA Stepanova

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