Russian swimming’s doping shame

Times investigation unmasks how a disgraced doctor, illegal drugs labs and covered-up tests cheated the world

The full scale of doping in Russian swimming over the past decade can be revealed after investigations by The Times uncovered an alarming picture of systematic drug use in the sport.

The doping scandal that engulfed Russian athletics is now set to spread to swimming in the country after evidence of an organised drugs culture in that sport too.

Unless Fina treat doping with a robust, impenetrable and fiercely ­determined approach, then we are all banging our heads against the wall

The Times can disclose that the doctor regarded as the mastermind of doping in Russian athletics also actively encouraged the national swimming team to adopt a systematic doping policy.

The revelations have sparked calls for Russia to be excluded from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this summer and for the World Anti-doping Agency (Wada) to carry out an independent investigation into swimming and other sports in Russia.

The investigation revealed that:

• Sergei Portugalov, the doctor who masterminded doping in Russian athletics, also pushed swimmers on the national team to take performanceenhancing drugs. He held a leading position in the European aquatics governing body, LEN, and was also a member of Russian swimming’s medical committee.

• A witness testified of a “poolside apothecary” at one competition in Moscow to provide “pills and medicines” to swimmers.

• A coach was told by a leading figure in Russian swimming that the team had “a pharmacological laboratory on site”.

• Two swimmers tested positive for EPO, the blood-boosting agent, but were never punished — leading to fears of a cover-up by the country’s now-discredited anti-doping organisation.

• Witnesses were terrified of reprisals if they went public with their revelations.

• Yuliya Efimova, the Olympic medal favourite in breaststroke, is facing a life ban after testing positive for meldonium — she has served a 16-month ban for steroids. She is now excluded from her California training base.

Russia has the worst record in swimming of any country in the past decade with more than 40 positive tests.

Russian athletes are already banned from international competition after a report by a Wada independent commission and pressure is growing for action to be taken against Russian swimming and other sports.

Jon Rudd, the head coach of England’s Commonwealth Games swimming team, said that Fina, the sport’s world governing body, had to take a tougher stance against doping.

“I’m blown away by these revelations,” Rudd said. “It is like an alien world compared to that in Britain. Unless Fina take our sport, the sport we love, in their hands, nurture it, back clean swimming and treat doping with a robust, impenetrable and fiercely determined approach aimed at cutting out the rot, then we are all banging our heads against the wall.”

Bill Furniss, the head coach of Britain’s Olympic swimming team, also expressed concern.

“I am bothered [about Russia] and I would hope the powers that be are looking after our sport because I know one thing for sure — I see what our swimmers do day in day out, the blood, sweat and tears, and I hope for them that it is a level playing field,” he said.

My whole career was blighted and every medal I won, apart from the Commonwealth Games, was behind the East Germans

Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the US anti-doping agency — who finally exposed Lance Armstrong’s doping activities — called for Russia to be excluded from the Rio Games.

“They are just playing games and laughing behind our backs,” Tygart said. “There has to be a consequence — this was a state-sponsored system and anything less than some meaningful consequence is just not fair to clean athletes. Of course we want all countries at the Olympic Games, but that cannot come at the expense of clean athletes’ rights.”

Beckie Scott, the chairwoman of Wada’s athletes’ commission and a member of the International Olympic Committee, said that swimming was one of the “high-risk” sports in Russia that needed to be investigated “as a priority” with the possibility of bans being enforced before Rio.

The athletes’ committee wrote to Wada two weeks ago demanding that the investigation in Russia be expanded beyond athletics. Last night, Scott piled more pressure on Wada and the IOC leadership, telling The Times that athletes from across the globe were demanding action.

“In ten years’ involvement [with Wada], I have never seen such a strong response as this,” Scott said. “If nothing is done, it will be a true letdown for the athletes, enormously disappointing. They are counting on our sports administration, our heads to do the right thing.”

On The Times’s investigation, she confirmed that: “It’s fair to say there are some high-risk sports which need to be looked at as a priority and swimming is one of them.”

Asked if the ruling bodies would dare to risk the political fallout from excluding Russians from the Rio Olympics, she said that the authorities had to act or risk undermining the Games.

“There’s a real credibility issue at stake,” she said. “You are for clean sport or you are not. It’s pretty black and white. And if you let politics get in the way, or conflicting interests, then you aren’t for clean sport. Is it realistic? I hope so. If we look at the evidence thus far, then just on that it is realistic.”

Sharron Davies, the Briton who finished second to Petra Schneider, of East Germany, in the 400 metres medley at the 1980 Moscow Games, said that her career had been blighted by dopers. “My whole career was competing against East Germans who we know were systematic drug-takers,” she said. “My whole career was blighted and every medal I won, apart from the Commonwealth Games, was behind the East Germans.”

The Times emailed Portugalov a list of questions in Russian at his request after contacting him. “I will read these questions, I will look through these questions, and then, depending on the content of the questions, I think I will be able to answer something or to refuse the whole part,” he said in English. However, he did not respond and could not be reached again by telephone.

Other sports in Russia are also being dragged into the scandal — the Russian Wrestling Federation (RWF) said that its team may not compete in Rio after recording “tens” of positive doping results in an internal investigation.

Mikhail Mamiashvili, the RWF president, told Russia’s R-Sport news agency that: “There are tens of positive tests in the team, everyone is in a bad condition psychologically.”

A Wada spokesman said that Sir Craig Reedie, its president, is examining all evidence to determine whether or not “urgent action would be warranted to propose further investigation”.

Reedie told last night: “If these allegations are correct they will certainly concern Wada and we will examine them in detail.

The Russian swimming federation and Fina did not respond when asked to comment. The anti-doping department of the Russian ministry of sport said that it would respond “by the end of the week”.

Please wait...

Get the body you’ve been dreaming of in 3 months with my “Ultra Lean Nutrition Manual” from the “Nice Facts” series! Sign up to get the download link.

Want to be notified when our article is published? Enter your email address and name below to be the first to know.