Rio 2016: Russia by no means the only doping offenders at the Olympics – past or present

From East Germany's decades-long state-doping programme to the US Olympic Committee covering up Carl Lewis's repeated failed drugs tests ahead of the 1988 Seoul Games, the latest scandal to hit Russia is nothing unique, writes Osman Samiuddin.

'The dirtiest race in sport's history': The men's 100m final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, won by Canada's Ben Johnson, left, who was later disqualified after a positive drugs test. AFP Photo
Powered by automated translation

Editor’s note: This is the final of a three-part series looking at the Russian doping scandal

The World Anti-doping Agency’s (Wada) annual report from 2013 should make for interesting reading. It confirms that Russian transgressions as far as doping violations are concerned are the highest in the world.

Of the 207,513 samples tested that year across all sports, 2,540 were found to have an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF), the common term for a failed doping test. Russia had the highest number of violations, with 225 positive tests for banned substances. Turkey was in second place with 188 cases and – this may seem surprising – France in third with 108.

In athletics that year, Turkey actually had more positives tests – 53 – than Russia, who had 42 (though of course the whole point of Russia’s doping duplicity was that a large number of dirty samples were swapped with clean ones). India was third with 30.

The report for 2014 was released earlier this year. Russia has the highest number of violations again with 148 (and presumably more that were tampered ‘clean’). But on paper, Italy was not far behind with 123; India, again, had 96 and both Belgium and France 91. In athletics alone, Russia had 39, India 29 and Italy 15.

None of this is to absolve Russia, or to deny the depth and breadth of problems there. Not least among them is the key point that the doping regime seems very much to have been state-sanctioned and enabled. There is no evidence to suggest that is happening in any of the other nations high on those tables.

See more doping stories from Osman Samiuddin:

IOC deferring on Russia is a mere poke at the tip of the iceberg

Wada's doping failures extend far beyond Russia as the ICC are also demanding answers

More money could help as Wada also need to grow some teeth to become effective

From MLB to Balco – other sports and organisations tainted by doping scandals

Neither should these numbers allow us to draw moral equivalences. But what they should do is drive home a point that has been raised by the author of Wada’s damning investigation into doping, made in the report of November 2015, and one that has snuck past us on the outer edges of the glare on Russia.

"Kenya has a real problem and have been very slow to acknowledge it," Richard Pound, author of the report and the first Wada chief, wrote. "It's probably the tip of the iceberg. Russia is not the only country and athletics is not the only sport with a doping problem."

Speaking to the BBC, he said: “This iceberg spreads in two different directions. I suspect there are probably four, five or six nations that athletics has a problem with.

“Every other international sport today should be looking at Russian sport and looking at whether the men and women who compete in their events are clean. They do not have robust anti-doping regimes. They are asleep on the job – and they have to be rooted out.”

That is to say that though Russia may be the worst of the offenders, they are by no means the only ones. Already though the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has created a convoluted moral universe, given to dark ironies.

One such is that Justin Gatlin and LaShawn Merritt, among others, will be allowed to compete at Rio despite past doping convictions. Yet the athlete-turned-whistle-blower who shed light on Russian violations, Yulia Stepanova, will not be allowed to compete because of a rule that bars all Russian athletes with previous convictions from competing.

History should be a necessary guide in navigating this situation. The “dirtiest race in history” – the 100m final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics – had no sprinter from the former Soviet Union in it after all.

Balco was a nutritional supplement company in Bay Area, San Francisco, supplying to US athletes. In 2013, it was in Jamaica that a senior anti-doping official, after a rash of positive tests among their athletes, said that it could be the “tip of the iceberg”.

Perhaps worth recalling the most at this stage, other than East Germany’s doping regime in the 1960s and 1970s are the revelations of Dr Wade Exum, a former director of drug control of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) from 1991 to 2000.

In 2003, Exum released a huge tranche of documents from his time as director to Sports Illustrated that he claimed showed a number of US athletes had tested positive but been allowed to compete by USOC anyway.

Exum said there had been 114 positive tests of US athletes between 1998-2000 alone, including 18 who tested positive at the Olympic trials but still competed in the Games.

Among those tests, Exum said, were those of the legendary Carl Lewis, who tested positive three times at the Olympic trials for the 1988 Seoul Games yet was let off only with a warning. Defending himself at the time Lewis said he was merely one of “hundreds” who had got away with it at the time.

At the time Pound was Wada’s chairman and in an interview he said of the documents Exum had made public: “It’s what many people suspected about the US Olympic Committee, that it was being covered up. There were lots of rumours around.”

The state may not have been involved, but here was an administrative body accused by one of its own of having instigated a cover-up of positive doping tests, a charge that exists in a no dissimilar world to the ones against Russia.

There is no excusing what Russia has done, and no shirking from the scale of it. Though it did not come to pass, the case for a wholesale ban on Russia from the Games could have been justified.

But what it does not mean, not even remotely, is that their case is unique, now, or in the annals of history.

Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE

Like us on Facebook at