Russian runners threaten to sue whistleblower after IAAF ban
Two Russian athletes, suspended from international competition after a report on doping, have said they will bring a libel suit against the whistleblower. At a press conference in Moscow on Fridaythe 1500m athlete Kristina Ugarova and 800m runner Tatyana Myazina said they would sue their former team-mate Yulia Stepanova, whose testimony and hidden recordings featured prominently in the report, for defamation in a Russian court.
The World Anti-Doping Agency commission that issued the report recommended that Ugarova and Myazina be banned for life, along with the 400m and 800m athlete Anastasia Bazdyreva and two London Olympic medal winners, Yekaterina Poistogova and Maria Savinova.
Ugarova and Myazina also said they plan to bring a libel suit against the German television channel ARD, which first broadcast some of Stepanova’s revelations in a documentary on doping in August. Ugarova said the allegations against her had not been proven, suggesting that Russia’s rivals had worked to remove the country unfairly from competition.
“Our team-mates are accusing us, saying it’s because of us they can’t compete, which is not right because any athlete could end up in our situation,” she said. “For the countries that are accusing us, it doesn’t matter whom they accuse. They just wanted to find as many people as possible who were indirectly connected to this, without giving us a chance to explain ourselves.”
Savinova and Poistogova will meet the legal team on Monday, Ugarova said, adding that she hoped more athletes would join the lawsuit and the fight against “speculation” by Wada. The Wada report found that Russian athletes, coaches and officials had covered up widespread doping that could have influenced the results of competitions including the London Olympics. Last weekend the IAAF suspended the All-Russia Athletics Federation, raising the possibility the Russian team could miss the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August. It will likely miss the world indoor championships in Portland in March as investigators oversee Russia’s attempts to reform.
Ugarova said investigators had not attempted to contact her, although the report said investigators had sought an interview with her three times by email. Alexander Karabanov, the head of the legal team that is representing the pair for free, said they would seek moral damages and compensation for lost income, as the athletes have been suspended from practice and are no longer being paid their salaries.
“It’s a strange story to try to ban a whole nation from a certain sport,” said the lawyer Ivan Melnikov. “To me this is discrimination. We know from our history when a nation treated us carelessly, and we know how that all ended,” he added, apparently referring to the Second World War. Stepanova, who was disqualified for doping in 2013, and her husband Vitaly Stepanov, a former Russian anti-doping agency employee, provided secretly recorded conversations for the ARD documentary.
In one of them Myazina, who won bronze at the 2014 IAAF World Relays, reportedly admitted to taking the blood-doping agent EPO, often used in endurance sports. In another Ugarova reportedly said the runners had stopped using EPO but that her coach gave her a “course,” a term it said often refers to steroids. He sold her seven pills, she reportedly said, that allowed her to be “faster than his other female athletes”.
But the documentary includes only a voiced translation of what the runners were alleged to have said and the pair complained that the original audio had not been given to the Russian side for analysis. Myazina and Ugarova denied they had taken banned substances and Ugarova said she had not been referring to doping in the recorded conversation.
“It’s not banned substances that they give us on the team. It’s stuff like amino acids, vitamins. It’s a whole course. We were talking about that,” she said.
But the Wada report said the combination of high haemoglobin and low reticulocyte counts in blood test results, a lack of urine tests, and personal best performances for Ugarova in 2012 “indicate a strong suspicion of doping during competition”.Ugarova and her lawyers suggested Stepanova and her husband were working as Western intelligence operatives.
“Stepanov has friends in America, and suspicions have arisen among us that they were recruited as agents,” Uragova said. “They lived there for a long time. How did one girl just suddenly go and frame her country?”