Russian doping scandal 'equivalent to East Germany in the 1980s'

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Similarities can be drawn between the Russian doping scandal and the systematic state-sponsored drug programs seen in East Germany during the 1980s, a leading expert says.

Sports management expert, Associate Professor Daryl Adair, believes similarities can be drawn between the recent Russian doping scandal and state-sponsored programs seen over decades in East Germany, the former communist country and member of the Soviet bloc.

The claim comes as the International Olympic Committee faces criticism for resisting calls for a complete ban on Russian athletes competing at next month's Rio Olympics following the release of a damning report which proved state-backed doping at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

The report, conducted by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, revealed a system of covering up positive doping tests that extended to the highest levels of the Russian government.

The Russian athlete who blew the whistle on the scandal, runner Yulia Stepanova, has faced criticism from officials at home who accuse her of betraying her country.

Research conducted in the early 1990s found that East German athletes were part of a state-sponsored doping program for decades leading up to the fall of communism in that country in 1989.

Several East German athletes have since reported suffering from health problems related to steroid consumption during that period.

"The Russian doping scandal of today is the equivalent of what we saw in East Germany during the 1980s," Associate Professor Adair told SBS.

"Both involved state-sponsored doping, both involved pressure on athletes to conform to a doping regime. 

"The Russian athlete who blew the whistle (Stepanova), faced extortion from authorities. Doubtless, there were some who took a different view, embracing the doping system.

"It’s not clear from the McLaren Report what drugs were taken by the Russian athletes, but it’s fair to assume they would be the usual staples of EPO, steroids and the like."

Associate Professor Adair, who teaches at the University of Technology Sydney, said the scandal "not only exposed systemic fraud in Russian sport" but begged the question "how many other countries are doing the same?"

"Having nation states assume responsibility for anti-doping protocols relies on the assumption that member countries will act responsibly in accordance with the WADA code," he said.

"But, cynics might say that it is not in the interests of nation states to expose cheats in their own backyard, and at worse they may see advantage in flouting the rules to try to advance their country’s medal tally."

Australian sports minister Sussan Ley, a member of the WADA executive committee, said evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia "cannot be ignored".

"The fight against doping in sport requires strong international leadership, none more so in this case, where the integrity of an entire Olympic and Paralympic Games is at stake," Ms Ley said in a statement on Monday.

"I maintain the view that any actions less than what WADA has recommended at this critical point in time risks Rio being overshadowed by a contagious suspicion of compromised integrity and damaging the reputation of the Olympic movement."

'An ongoing challenge'

Drug testing expert Associate Professor Shanlin Fu said while methodologies behind the screening process have improved over decades, authorities continue to face an uphill battle to rid sport of illegal performance enhancing drugs.  

He said the clandestine drug production industry frequently produces new drugs, or produce modifications to existing drugs.

“There are new drugs coming up all the time,” he said.

“It’s an ongoing challenge, there’s always new things coming up and then it’s about how those laboratories find those new things.”

WADA disappointed by IOC decision

The International Olympic Committee's decision to reject calls to ban all Russian competitors from the Rio Olympics could lead to "lesser protection for clean athletes," the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said on Sunday.

The global anti-doping agency said it stood by its earlier recommendation that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decline all entries for the Rio Games submitted by the Russian Olympic Committee.

"WADA is disappointed that the IOC did not heed WADA’s Executive Committee recommendations that were based on the outcomes of the McLaren Investigation and would have ensured a straight-forward, strong and harmonised approach,” WADA President Craig Reedie said in a statement.

“The McLaren Report exposed, beyond a reasonable doubt, a state-run doping program in Russia that seriously undermines the principles of clean sport embodied within the World Anti-Doping Code."

- with Reuters

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