The IAAF Admitted it Failed, But No One Listened

Tomorrow the World Anti-Doping Agency will release the McLaren Report, which will provide a detailed look at allegations that arose in May regarding systemic cheating by Russia to win medals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. While the main focus is on winter sports, it is expected that the report will take a broader look at Russian doping practices across many sports. These allegations will no doubt be used by the IAAF in defending its decision to ban Russia track and field team from the 2016 Olympics. Russia no doubt is doing things wrong, but don’t let us be distracted from the fact that the IAAF is equally culpable. The IAAF needs to implement major changes if track and field has any chance of being cleaned up.

Below is yet another example of the mistakes at the IAAF level. Last weekend the IAAF declined the applications of 67 Russians looking to compete in Rio. Lost in the fine print of their decision weresome damning statements from the IAAF statement admitting their own testing system is useless. Overall the IAAF’s response was, frankly, pathetic. Whatever faith I had in anti-doping efforts evaporated after reading it. This week IOC President Thomas Bach said “Everybody not implicated cannot be made responsible for the misbehavior of others,” however that is exactly what the IAAF has done. If you lived in Russia you are not just guilty until proven innocent, you are guilty without the possibility of proving yourself innocent. Add to this the fact that IAAF disregarded its own guidelines in many instances, did not seem to read every application, issued the same boilerplate responses to everyone despite unique facts to some cases, and more. I will not bog you down in the legal technicalities, but I would like to point out a few instances from Sergej Litvinov’s decision (the same as the other 66 decisions) that make me just cringe as a fan of the sport.

Last weekend I wrote about about Russia issues in an attempt to put them in context. For today’s column I want to focus more on the issues at the IAAF and how their own statements illustrate the problems they have.

Many of the World’s Best Athletes Are Not Tested

In order to receive an exemption, athletes had to show two points: (1) that they were not tainted by the failures of the Russian federation because they were subject to other fully adequate anti-doping systems; and (2) they were subject to testing “equivalent in quality to the testing to which his competitors in the International Competition(s) in question are subject.”

To evaluate this second point, the IAAF compiled statistics about each event and compared them to the athlete’s own testing history. In the men’s hammer it looked like this:


Yes, you’ve read that correctly, but let me emphasize it:

In the past 30 months the world number 10 in the hammer throw has not even been tested once! #iaaffail Click To Tweet

Litvinov was tested more than 15 times by the IAAF and others during this time, including many special tests in recent months overseen by UK Anti Doping to ensure extra precautions had been taken. With just the 16th best performance in the world last year, he was tested more than higher ranked athletes. But the IAAF then concluded the following:

“The Doping Review Board is not comfortably satisfied that during the Relevant Period the Applicant . . . has been subject to fully compliant drug testing in- and out-of-competition equivalent in quality to the testing to which his prospective competitors have been subject.”

Are you serious? What is good enough? I didn’t think it would be that hard to show Litvinov was tested as well as athletes that were never tested. But apparently I was wrong.

The IAAF Has No Faith in Its Own Testing System

Litvinov also had strong arguments to prove he met the first requirement too. After all, he was not just subject to the Russia’s anti-doping system, but also to the IAAF and Germany’s controls throughout his career. The revelations about Russia’s anti-doping issues have focused on the problems with Russian systems. However most top athletes are part of the IAAF Registered Doping Pool and subjected to tests directly by the IAAF each year. Russia had 37 athletes in the doping pool last year, given an average of 5.5 tests each. Litvinov was among them. This ought to count for something, especially when the IAAF’s own guidelines specifically stated that being in the IAAF Pool would be a key factor for evaluating applications.

Well, the IAAF disagreed. Why? Because they do not even have faith in their own anti-doping program:

“No assurance at all can be taken from the drug testing that the IAAF (or any other organisation) conducted in Russia during the Relevant Period.”

Even the @iaaforg says 'No assurance at all can be taken' from its testing. #iaaffail Click To Tweet

The world’s best athletes from all countries are part of this program. If the IAAF does not have faith in its own program, why should we?

The IAAF Has No Faith in Any Testing

Even if the IAAF did not have faith in older tests, surely they should have faith in the special tests they implemented this year. They brought in UK Anti Doping to administer them, set up special procedures to process them abroad, and everything was done under the close watch of administrators. Litvinov has been continuously tested under this system and you think that would also help prove he is clean. After incorrectly counting the number of tests he had been subject to, the IAAF said it didn’t matter how many times he had been tested because even these tests cannot be given any weight:


We all know that testing is not foolproof, but when processed correctly it should carry some weight. Instead the IAAF says that testing is useless. What’s the point of it then? Why do we even waste the time and money? Does that mean we should have no faith in any athlete being clean? Shouldn’t we then just cancel the Olympics for everyone? Of course not, but the IAAF just doesn’t think in terms of common sense.

In this coming week the Court of Arbitration for sport will look at the procedural errors by the IAAF not just in these decisions, but in the entire Russian affair dating back to last year. If the IAAF’s handling of this most recent issue is any indication of their overall competence in this area, I would say their chances of winning are not good.

2 replies
  1. Jim Haberkorn
    Jim Haberkorn says:

    Thanks for researching this issue. While it seems pretty evident that the Russian sports federation was guilty of widespread corruption, I was bothered by the IAAF decision where virtually all Russian athletes were treated as guilty in a blanket condemnation. Thanks to your article, I now understand why I had such reservations. It’s a shame when any group of people gets painted with the same brush regardless of individual circumstances. The IAAF could have saved itself a lot of criticism, and the athletes it is supposed to serve a lot of grief, by exercising a little more common sense and fairness. Yes, it would have required more work on the part of the IAAF, but what is that organization there for if not to impartially serve the interests of the athletes in our great sport. The careers of T&F athletes are relatively short. Losing out on an entire Olympics is tantamount to a death penalty. I suppose my feelings on this are motivated by my memory of Jimmy Carter’s useless boycott of the Moscow Olympics – another example of governing bodies making decisions which hurt no one except the athletes.


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