‘Disgraced’ IAAF has failed its athletes, say embattled anti-doping scientists

• Dr Michael Ashenden and Dr Robin Parisotto were criticised by IAAF
• ‘Let’s wait and see who is sitting on the right side of history’

The eminent scientists at the centre of allegations that athletics turned a blind eye to potential mass doping have vigorously hit back at claims by the IAAF that their work “lacks any scientific or legal basis” and have accused the sport’s governing body of “failing its athletes”.

Dr Michael Ashenden and Dr Robin Parisotto, the two anti-doping experts enlisted by the Sunday Times and the German broadcaster ARD to analyse leaked data belonging to the International Association of Athletics Federations, concluded that hundreds of athletes had recorded suspicious results between 2001 and 2012 which were not followed up. On Friday that verdict was fiercely rejected by the IAAF, who insisted it had been a pioneer in the fight against blood doping and roundly criticised Ashenden and Parisotto. Yet both men have not only stood by their science but questioned the motives of the IAAF, which Ashenden called “a disgraced federation”.

“The IAAF has released a statement that comprises 25 pages of hair‑splitting, plus 13 pages of appendices,” he said. “The irony of a disgraced federation casting aspersions is not lost on me. But their deliberately bloated document, no doubt intended to muddy the waters, cannot go unanswered.

“It is not just the Sunday Times or ARD questioning whether the IAAF ‘idly sat by and let this happen’,” he added. “The independent commission has identified corruption and bribery at the highest levels of international athletics, currently under investigation by Interpol. I witnessed symptoms of that disgraceful behaviour when I inspected a database drenched with suspect blood profiles. I made comment accordingly.”

Parisotto, meanwhile, insisted that many of the blood values in the leaked database had been “jaw-dropping” and said the data revealed “that so many athletes were at real risk of suffering heart attacks, strokes and even death”. He added: “While initially driven for the need to identify potential cheats there was a real underlying concern for athletes who may have been harming themselves. Based on some of the extreme values in the database there were questions that went beyond doping or anti-doping and one that entailed a duty of care.”

Parisotto also dismissed the IAAF’s suggestion that he had “charged” athletes with doping as “completely wrong”. He said that he had assessed the database in the same way he always screened blood values when examining cyclists and track and field athletes, by regarding athletes’ profiles as normal, suspicious, indicative of doping or suggestive of an underlying medical condition.

Another bone of contention between the scientists and the IAAF is whether abnormal values found in blood screening tests conducted from 2001 and 2009 – before the athlete biological passport was introduced in December 2009 – could be used as indicators of doping. On Friday the IAAF insisted it could not, and quoted Dick Pound, who led the independent commission, saying: “It would be reckless, if not libellous, to make such an allegation”.

However Ashenden pointed to the case of the German speed skater Claudia Pechstein, who was sanctioned outside of the athlete biological passport, as showing it was possible. “The IAAF trickily sought to camouflage that damning fact by disingenuously suggesting that the sanctions imposed on Pechstein coincided with the introduction of the ABP. In fact the sanctions were applied to February 2009 because that was when the suspicious results occurred,” he said.

Ashenden said the IAAF itself estimated that 14% of its endurance athletes were likely blood doping – so 700 among 5,000 athletes – yet since 2001 only 214 athletes had been charged. “Understandably the IAAF skip over the implications. Is the public supposed to regard the 486 uncharged dopers as ‘dark matter’ which we know are out there but never to be seen?” he asked. “The IAAF pleads that it could not have done more. Faced with the life-threatening blood values which they knew existed among their athletes, I say they should have tried to push the legal envelope. The IAAF were legally timid when they should have been morally strong.”

Ashenden also had a message for Sebastian Coe, who is scheduled to face the parliamentary committee on culture, media and sport this coming week. “He was particularly vocal about my criticism of the IAAF, and defended its anti-doping department,” he said. “I say the IAAF failed their athletes. Let’s wait and see who is sitting on the right side of history.”


Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

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