May 10, 2016 / 7:47 AM / 4 years ago

Whistleblower nearly aborted efforts to expose Russian doping

(Reuters) - Whistleblower Vitaly Stepanov told Reuters on Monday he nearly aborted his plan to expose widespread doping in Russian athletics when the World Anti-Doping Agency was slow to act on information he provided them.

Stepanov, who previously worked for Russia’s anti-doping agency, said he second-guessed himself countless times during a three-year stretch where information he fed to WADA did not lead to action.

“I was falling asleep and telling myself I am an idiot,” Stepanov told Reuters in a telephone interview. “That was probably my thought a lot of times. Especially after each major competition that was my thought. What am I doing?”

Stepanov, who had over 200 email exchanges with WADA starting in 2010, provided evidence for a German television documentary called “Top Secret Doping: How Russia Makes Its Winners” that led to the establishment of a WADA independent commission last year.

“I was frustrated with myself,” said Stepanov, who is now living in an undisclosed location in the United States with his wife. “That was half of the time. The other half of the time there was hope WADA was looking for ways to deal with this issue and you have to be really patient.

“I thought the best I could do was provide the information and hope it was used for the right reason.”

WADA spokesman Ben Nichols told Reuters on Monday the agency acted as soon as it could. Before 2015, WADA did not have the authority to conduct its own investigations under the World Anti-Doping Code, according to Nichols.

But Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, when asked about the WADA inaction, said: “From a clean athlete prospective, it is really hard to stomach that they didn’t. It rattles confidence in the system.

“One way or another future generations are going to look back at this as the defining moment in the fight for clean sport.”

Based on the WADA commission report, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) suspended Russian athletics from international competition, including the Aug. 5-21 Rio Olympics.

The IAAF Council will decide on June 17 whether to reinstate Russia and allow its athletics team to compete in Rio.

The Council also is expected to take up the request by Stepanov’s wife Yuliya, who served a two-year doping ban, to compete in Rio.

Asked what WADA should do to clean up sport, Stepanov said:

“WADA needs more people that believe in clean sport and fair competitions and less politicians.”

“I think the system works if there are no corrupt people in it. Then it is a good system.”

Russia’s Ministry of Sport said on Monday since the revelations by the Stepanovs originally appeared in 2015, a full probe has been carried out into activities by the Russian state and a “road map” had been agreed to with WADA to reform the anti-doping process.

“These efforts thus ensure the independence and transparency of doping control in Russia, which is fully supported by the state,” the ministry said in a statement.

Although some Russians have called Stepanov and his wife traitors, Vitaly denied the couple wanted to destroy Russian sport.

“I wasn’t trying to expose Russia, I was trying to expose corrupt sports officials that are completely messing up competitions not just inside the country but globally,” he said.

“This kind of people should be in jail.”

Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Frank Pingue

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