Rio 2016: Russian drug cheats will still be at Olympics, say whistleblowers

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Russian drugs cheats will be in Rio - Stepanov

Russian drug cheats will be competing at next month's Olympic Games despite efforts to eradicate them, say the whistleblowers who highlighted the country's state-sponsored doping.

The International Olympic Committee has asked governing bodies to ban Russians either implicated in a recent report into doping, or previously sanctioned.

But former Russian Anti-Doping Agency official Vitaly Stepanov and his 800m runner wife Yuliya told BBC Sport: "There will be athletes who have used doping from Russia in Rio."

The pair were forced to flee Russia after their evidence put the country's doping record under intense scrutiny but said they "feel safe" in their new home at a secret location.

"Unfortunately the reaction to our actions in our home country is not positive," Vitaly said.

"A lot of people in general and athletes as well hate us for what we did and we would not go back to Russia right now. There, we would feel unsafe."

The Stepanovs gave evidence to a German documentary maker in 2014 that led to an independent report being commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency which found evidence of widespread doping.

That in turn led to another Wada-commissioned report - last week's McLaren report - which detailed extensive attempts to cover up doping in Russia and implicated the Russian ministry of sport, secret service and anti-doping agency.

The IOC decided against enforcing a blanket ban on Russian sportspeople for Rio, despite calls for tough action in the wake of the McLaren report.

Instead, the IOC said it would be up to individual sports federations to decide which athletes were eligible for Rio. So far, 37 athletes across six sports have been banned since the IOC made its decision.

That is in addition to athletics' governing body, the IAAF, already opting to ban Russian track and field athletes from the competition unless they can satisfy strict doping criteria. So far, only one athlete has been able to do that.

"The IOC showed that first of all there is no punishment for running a systematic doping programme in the largest country in the world," Vitaly said.

"And second, they protected not the majority of clean athletes globally, but they protected clean athletes in Russia."

The Stepanovs were speaking just a day after criticising the IOC for banning Yuliya, 30, from Rio.

Despite being cleared to compete under a neutral flag by the IAAF, the IOC ruled she should not be allowed to take part because she was sanctioned for doping in 2013.

The Stepanovs said this sent out the wrong signal to potential whistleblowers, with Vitaly saying: "You didn't really have a choice if you wanted to be a member of the national team.

"She has served her ban, fully served her ban, she thinks that she should not be punished a second time for something that she did in the past."

Graphic showing which Russian athletes have been banned from the Rio Olympics
Six of Russia's Olympic teams have now been affected

Full transcript of the Stepanovs' BBC interview:

Can you give your reaction to Russia not being given a blanket ban on all athletes competing at Rio?

My personal view is that I expected a stronger reaction to state-sponsored doping and unfortunately it happened to our home country, but I don't think that should be an excuse for protecting corrupt sports officials that are setting up these kinds of systems in any country. Unfortunately it happened to our own home country and it felt like the IOC felt like it was okay to do that, to set up a cheating system inside the country which affects not just Russia but the rest of the world as well.

How difficult has it been for Yuliya to have the opportunity to compete at Rio taken away?

I was under the impression while having the interview by the IOC commission that they already had the decision in mind and they were just looking for phrases from me to use in a statement about not allowing me to compete in Rio.

Explain to us why you decided to expose corruption?

The day I came to RUSADA at the beginning of 2008 I thought I had a dream job, helping clean athletes to compete clean. That was my goal, it was something I wanted to do and that's what I did. When I saw that unfortunately there is not too many people that want to fight inside the Russian system, I had to think "do I go against these kinds of people inside my own system"? After doing some soul searching I decided 'yes, let's try to ask for help', and that's what I did. At the beginning of 2010 I went to Wada officials and said "I think we have a big problem in Russia".

What did you see and hear? What did you tell authorities?

The main thing since I worked at the Russian anti-doping agency is that they aren't working according to world anti-doping code and it seems that it's not because we can't work under those rules, but because we don't want to. We don't want to follow it as an organisation because we want to help Russian athletes to win medals. It goes against my belief that if you win medals by cheating then you shouldn't have those medals.

Explain what it was day-to-day that shocked you?

I worked at the Russian anti-doping agency that is responsible for educational programmes and collecting samples, the laboratory is responsible for testing samples. Those are two independent structures and they must be independent. I never worked at the lab. They must be independent but they aren't, they inform each other about what is happening. I saw sports officials trying to avoid doping controls, there are lists going around sports federations, lists of athletes about the ones who shouldn't be tested at certain times.

You took a huge risk, you must have been very concerned for your safety?

Wada, since the beginning, said they are concerned about our personal safety, they were the ones trying to protect us with the information we have. I was actually willing to take that risk, that's the decision I made when I said I was going to try and fight doping.

Do you feel you've been given the support that warrants such a thing of this magnitude?

It was not easy in the beginning but as time goes by there are more and more people supporting us on a personal level because they believe us and understand our intentions. Right now, even sports organisations like IAAF and European Athletics are supporting my wife and helping her to come back and become an athlete in what we hope is cleaner competitions.

You've been forced to flee your home, Yuliya can no longer compete, has this been worth it?

We were not doing it to get some profit from it, we just did what we felt was right, we felt as a family that all we can do is first of all try and admit our mistakes and tell people about those mistakes and try and become better people because now we have a little child and we want to be good examples for our son. So yes, it was worth it and it is worth it and the support for us is getting bigger and bigger.

You have exposed one of the largest doping scandals in the history of the world, you must be very concerned for you and your family's safety?

In our current location we do feel safe, but unfortunately the reaction to our actions in our home country is not positive, a lot of people in general and athletes as well hate us for what we did and we would not go back to Russia right now. There we would feel unsafe, but here we do feel safe.

Yuliya was part of that doping system, was she given a choice?

You didn't really have a choice if you wanted to be a member of the national team. If you wanted to compete internationally that was the only way the officials and coaches were offering to you, using doping. On the bigger picture did you have a choice? Yes you do, you follow the system or leave it. As a young athlete you see that your coaches say that everyone is doping, not just Russians but every athlete in the world, all countries have the same system. But that's where you have an option, you can say "I don't believe you coach, I don't have that dream of becoming an Olympic athlete, I'm going to leave sport". But most of the people that want to achieve something big in sport, they basically have no choice but to believe and continue in this system.

People will say she could have chosen not to cheat, and that missing the Olympics is punishment.

[Yuliya] has served her ban, fully served her ban, she thinks that she should not be punished a second time for something that she did in the past.

Other Russian athletes would say the same, wouldn't they?

Yes this is coming back to this whole Russian systematic doping and cover ups that have been happening even to other Russian athletes. In this regard, that would be unfair because they work hard but the others that have been covered up over the past years by the Russian sports authorities, they will compete as supposedly clean athletes.

How many Russian drugs cheats do you think will still be competing at the Rio Olympics?

We don't know this.

Will cheats be at Rio?

[Yuliya] thinks so. As the report said it involved 20 summer Olympic sports, this system of cover ups, so yes there will be athletes who have used doping from Russia in Rio.

Will you accept the IOC's invitation and attend the Olympic Games?

I don't know if you saw our statement from yesterday, but no, we have not asked for favours, we have just asked for a fair decision in regards to Yuliya's decision. The troubling part that we did not like, and that's why we wrote the statement, is that the IOC ethics commission used statements that were just not true with regards to Yuliya's story about becoming a whistleblower. That's the troubling part, they aren't saying the truth.

Will more people come forward with evidence like yours, or has this system proven that whistleblowers will be reluctant to come forward in the future?

Again, my personal view is that the problem is not with the whistleblowers, the problem is with the sports officials globally who decide they make the rules but then do not need to follow the rules. Then they can cover up and make arrangements and say that everything is fine, and then show us something fake on TV. That is the problem that sport is facing on a bigger scale because if sports officials are highly-ethical people then they will not need whistleblowers, but the way that even IOC officials are acting it sure seems that they have something to hide and they don't want whistleblowers in the future.

Could Thomas Bach, in light of his relationship with Putin, make a decision about Russia's participation at the Games?

I do not know if they have a personal relationship, I have no evidence of that. But the IOC showed that first of all there is no punishment for running a systematic doping programme in the largest country in the world. And second, they protected not the majority of clean athletes globally, but they protected clean athletes in Russia, and in the bigger picture there are a lot more clean athletes globally than just in Russia, so I personally feel they should have been on the side of the global clean community not the Russian clean community.

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