Russian TV May Have Paid to Hush Athletics Doping Findings

Updated on
  • World Anti-Doping Agency suggests link to broadcast rights
  • Russian President Putin linked to former athletics chief

Russian broadcasters may have agreed to payments for media rights in exchange for a cover-up of Russian athletes’ doping by international sports officials, an independent investigation commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency said.

In a report that was often vague and carefully hedged many of its findings, WADA said there “appears to be a connection” between the awarding of broadcasting rights to the 2013 World Championships in Athletics, which were held in Moscow, and “muting the discovery of some positive samples by Russian athletes." It didn’t identify broadcasters by name but said they were "probably Russian."

The All-Russia Athletic Federation, the nation’s governing body for track and field, didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.

Chaired by former WADA President Dick Pound, the commission also reported a 2013 conversation in which Lamine Diack, the International Association of Athletics Federations chief at the time, said that only Russian President Vladimir Putin could resolve issues with doping investigations into nine Russian athletes. In the same conversation, Diack also said he had struck up a friendship with the Russian president, who has cultivated his influence with high-ranking global sport officials.

Weak Governance

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment sent by text message. The ex-president of the Russian athletics federation, Valentin Balakhnichev, who stepped down in February amid the doping scandal, has denied any wrongdoing, according to state news service RIA Novosti.

"The IAAF fully acknowledges and accepts the extreme gravity of the Commission’s findings," the organization said in a statement. "The weakness of IAAF’s governance which has been exposed allowed individuals at the head of the previous regime at the IAAF to delay the following of normal procedures in certain doping cases."

Corruption, Conspiracy

As part of its probe, WADA investigators reached out to Interpol and to the French authorities, who have opened an inquiry into "allegations including active and passive corruption, money laundering, and criminal conspiracy," according to the report. Diack, 82, and two other IAAF executives were arrested on corruption charges in November after the release of the first part of WADA’s report, which confirmed widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs in Russian athletics programs as previously reported by The Sunday Times and German broadcaster ARD. Diack has been released on bail.

Thursday’s report also said that, in addition to the broadcasting rights awards process, a $25 million sponsorship deal with Russia’s VTB Bank PJSC also requires “forensic examination” by the IAAF under its new leader, Lord Sebastian Coe. The deal was signed soon after a problem -- the report was unspecific -- arose with the TV rights to 2013’s championships.

VTB said that allegations it overvalued its sponsorship deal with the IAAF are “completely without foundation” and that all its dealings with the federation were strictly commercial and related to advertising. “We are surprised by the report’s implications which are obviously untrue,” VTB said in an e-mailed response to questions. Russia’s state-run TV and radio broadcasting company, VGTRK, described the report’s findings as “complete nonsense” in an e-mailed statement.

WADA’s report wasn’t specific about the questions arising around the VTB sponsorship.