The devastating and damning report into Russian sport by Wada has found that the country’s government, security services and sporting authorities colluded to hide widespread doping across “a vast majority” of winter and summer sports. The International Olympic Committee has promised it will not hesitate to take “toughest sanctions available” against those implicated.
But there would be no investigation in the first place without the work of two brave whistleblowers and one journalist and his team determined to expose the seedy underbelly of Russian sporting administration. His name is Hajo Seppelt and his name should be a household name for his services in cleaning up sport.
The work of Hajo Seppelt and the Ard team has seriously brought to the public’s attention instances of systemic breakdown and institutional disorder that had been unnoticed or intentionally concealed in Russia. As a result of revelations from Seppelt’s documentary, there will be no track and field athletes competing under the Russian flag at the Olympic Games in 2016 as they have not met the readmission criteria.
Seppelt used the testimony of whistleblowers Yuliya Stepanova and Vitaly Stepanov to form his investigation into Russian doping in sport. The duo are the main characters in the series of documentaries by Ard, a German channel, as whistleblowers, accusing the Russian sports system of significant doping fraud.
Both said that Russian athletics officials supplied banned substances in exchange for 5% of an athlete’s earnings and falsified tests together with doping control officers. Their goal was to fight doping in sport. Vitaliy worked for RUSADA, the Russian anti-doping agency. “I wanted to fight doping. And I wanted to make sports cleaner, more honest, better.”
Within the first or second meeting with his wife, his eyes were opened to extent of Russian doping. For the next four years, Vitaly had attempted to alert the World Anti-Doping Agency without any action taken.
Doping coaches and corrupt government officials were given a chance to speak also. Coaches such as Melnikov and Portugalov were asked about secret recordings and leaked emails he received where they are involved in doping but they refuse to reply.
Some, like the President of the Russian Athletics Federation, agreed to a short chat but swerve his questions. Some, like the Director of Rusada Nikita Kamaev and Grigoriy Rodchenkov of the Anti-Doping Laboratory Moscow maintain their innocence strongly.
There are also cases like with Sports Minister, Vitaliy Mutko, who refuse to reply to the first documentary but are forced to reply to follow-up documentaries having seen the impact of the original investigation.
In the scandal, the main victims of the story are clearly the whistleblowers. ‘The Secrets of Doping: How Russia Makes Its Winners’ states in its opening:
“This is Yulia Stepanova and Vitaliy Stepanov and their small son Robert. In their native Russia they don’t feel safe anymore. Because they’ve given away a secret.”
In Seppelt’s second documentary ‘Doping – Top Secret: The Shadowy World of Athletics’, it highlights that they are in hiding abroad because of intimidation from the Russian authorities. When they meet Seppelt, it is in Austria in an unnamed location.
They are now living in America, again in an unnamed location. They had no job or prospects for a long time and are repeatedly vilified in Russia, calling them ‘liars’ and ‘traitors’. “I think if we stayed in Russia, we wouldn’t have been safe” Yuyila Stepanova says. “They could incite someone or pay them. There are many ways to get revenge.”
Yuliya Stepanova has not been permitted to run in the Olympics for her bravery in exposing the scandal as a ‘neutral’ country. This was a much welcome move but it came rather late by the IAAF after years of grief for the pair and for the journalists covering the scandal.
The International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) authorized a series of legal warnings to Hajo Seppelt after his documentary on the extent of doping in Russian athletics. He received three letters from lawyers acting for the IAAF advising him that it was monitoring his comments relating to athletics and doping, and reserves the right to take legal action.
Russia, trying to discredit his research, have also tried to set up for bad press, accusing him of attacking a Russian journalist. Yet, Seppelt and the ARD have persistently asked the hard questions of athletics and of the Russian authorities.
When the WADA Independent Commission delivered its report into doping in athletics, the president, Dick Pound, highlighted the flaw of a lack of protection of whistleblowers: “Many sport organisations treat whistleblowers more harshly than they treat dopers,” he said. Journalists must also do their utmost to protect their sources.
The website sportsleaks.com has been set up by Seppelt to encourage whistleblowers to submit information. This is the only platform of its kind in the world, intended to provide safe, secure and trustworthy assistance to whistleblowers and it guarantees anonymity if the person so chooses.
The website, created in June 2016, has been a result of the great work done by investigative journalists, who have realised that sports are rife with doping, corruption and cheating and that sports’ internal measures to fight corruption and cheating have failed.
The website is a legacy that Seppelt will leave and he has fought as hard as anyone for a fairer and cleaner sport for all.