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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Annals of Russian "Sportsmanship"

The Irish Examiner reports:

The Russian Rowing Federation is the focus of an investigation after three of its members were disqualified from the World Rowing Championships. The three athletes, two from the men’s double sculls and one from the women’s eights, were not found guilty of taking an illegal substance but of using a prohibited method. An intravenous drip had been used by all three and, despite the fact the substances they infused into their body not being on the banned list, the methodology is not permitted. Drips may only be used where it is medically necessary. According to World Rowing Federation (FISA) rules, this was punishable by immediate elimination from the competition and a two-year suspension for each of the athletes.

However, the Russian federation could also face disciplinary action due to another article of the FISA statutes aimed at punishing any kind of organised drug use. An investigation was already under way since a Russian rower was also found guilty of a doping offence 12 months ago – on that occasion using a banned substance. “We have special rules to deal with systematic doping and if four or more violations are committed by athletes of one federation in a 12-month period, certain action may be taken,” explained FISA executive director Matt Smith. The question which must be cleared first of all is whether the three incidents this year and the one last year actually took place within the same 365-day period.

With an investigation still in progress, Smith was not able to confirm or deny whether that was the case, but he could reveal that the latest incident was the result of testing done before the start of the World Rowing Championships last Sunday. He said: “The test was not done here in Germany. We did extensive out-of-competition testing in June and July. “We had evidence which led us to the Russian team and so we did some extensive testing (of them).” FISA took immediate action on Tuesday night, calling the athletes before a panel and presenting them with their evidence. All the athletes admitted using the illegal methods and agreed to face the panel on Tuesday night to see if they would be able to compete on Wednesday or not. FISA had enough evidence to exclude them.

The haste of FISA’s action was in stark contrast to last year, when the Russian women’s quadruple sculls team was stripped of a gold medal as test results were delayed. “On July 23 last year, a woman athlete was tested at Russia’s training camp in Bulgaria and the example was sent to Paris for analysis,” explained Smith. “The Paris office closed down for the whole of August and, on September 20, we received the positive result. “We usually have a 10-day turnaround time, but this test was performed by WADA who did not closely follow the case and delivered the results late, forcing us to take away the gold medal. “This year, we have no cases hanging over. We did 44 tests last Thursday and Friday and all of them resulted negative.” Smith also revealed the athlete who failed the test last July 23, Olga Samulenkova, was also tested on July 22 – a test which resulted negative. The WADA returned 24 hours later to take another sample, and this came back positive. “I think this sends out a message to the athletes that, once they have been tested, it does not mean they will not be tested again,” added Smith. A FISA panel is to meet again on Wednesday evening and more details, including the possibility of further action, will be revealed.

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