Russian whistleblowers lament IOC's failure to ban Russia from Rio
The Stepanovs believe it will allow Russia to continue doping at future Games
Couple's evidence first exposed in 2014 German documentary
Led to the first independent WADA report last November
The whistleblowers whose evidence was key to revealing the extent of Russian state-backed doping have slammed the International Olympic Committee’s decision not to ban the entire team, saying it is sends a signal to the sporting superpower can simply carry on as before.
Speaking to CNN for the first time since their evidence came to light in 2014, Vitaly Stepanov, a former employee at the Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA, and his wife, 800 meter runner Yulia Stepanova, said the IOC missed a crucial opportunity to dismantle Russia’s doping culture.
“I do believe the IOC had a chance to destroy this system and to show that the Olympic movement will not tolerate this kind of cheating,” Stepanov told CNN via a Skype from the U.S., “but they chose not to do that.”
Had they implemented a full ban, Stepanov believes it would have brought about a cultural change in Russian sports where even clean athletes would realize “if they see something wrong, they have to fight it.”
‘Start speaking up’
Stepanova says while she feels sorry for her fellow Russian athletes – that they were born into this system – she can’t understand why they have remained silent. “They could also start speaking up,” she says.
The “system,” as Stepanova calls it, was laid bare by the couple’s evidence, which was first revealed by a Germany documentary maker in 2014.
That formed the basis for the first independent WADA report last November, which led to the current ban on Russian track and field athletes from competing internationally.
Without the Stepanovs, it’s entirely conceivable that Russia’s Olympic team wouldn’t be experiencing its current turmoil.
The couple’s evidence documented a deep-rooted tradition of doping in Russian athletics, in which everyone participated and no one really believed was a problem or was prepared to confront.
“It was just like taking an ordinary course of vitamins,” Stepanova explains. “Sportsmen believed it was just normal preparation and you can’t do without it, it’s necessary for your body to recover and get ready.”
She too started taking banned substances, eventually confessing and serving a two-year ban which ended last year.
It’s this ban that now means Stepanova will not be able to compete in the Olympics, though the International Association of Athletics Federations raised her hopes earlier this year when it cleared her to compete in international competitions under a neutral flag.
However, the IOC then introduced a ban on any Russian athletes with a history of doping, and she was out again.
The Stepanovs asked the IOC to review this decision, saying it was based on a claim by the Olympic organization that Stepanova had refused to compete for Russia. She says that is not true.
The IOC told CNN its decision is final, but Stepanova can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. She does not plan on doing so.
“We are not planning to appeal the decision,” said her husband Stepanov. “I think more generally we are fighting for the right cause and maybe for the way the whistleblowers are seen in the future”.
He says it was never just about the Olympics and Stepanova still hasn’t given up hope.
“Maybe the Olympics is still in my future,” she tells CNN. “Maybe next time,” before adding that she has no plans to retire.
As for Russia’s future when it comes to doping, the Russian government says it is doing more to combat the problem. The Russian Olympic Committee inaugurated a new commission this week to fight doping, on the order of President Vladimir Putin.
“We are fighting,” the head of Russian Olympic Committee Alexander Zhukov told CNN Thursday. “I think now the Russian team is the cleanest team in the world.”
However, the Stepanovs have little faith anything will change.
Stepanov says Russia will interpret the IOC’s decision not to ban the team as a signal to do nothing. He says it’ll be a case of “let’s go for this Olympics, maybe not as successful as it could have been, but the next one we’ll be back and we’ll be running the same system.”