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An analysis of the DCMS Select Committee Report: ‘Combatting doping in sport’ – Part 1 “Knowledge and prevalence of doping in world athletics”

On Monday the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (“DCMS Committee”) published its long awaited report of its investigations into doping in sport (the “Report”). The Report has led to a number of sensational headlines concerning those criticised within it.

The background to the DCMS’s inquiry has been covered previously by Sports Shorts here.

The DCMS Committee’s inquiry started in 2015 following a series of articles published in The Sunday Times concerning the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs (“PEDs”) in athletics. The inquiry was then extended to look into doping in cycling, in response to the hacking of the WADA database by the Russian ‘Fancy Bear’ hacking group. Finally, the DCMS Committee examined issues relating to an investigation by the United Stated Anti-Doping Agency into Alberto Salazar, the American coach of Sir Mo Farah.

Despite the 43 page Report being entitled “Combatting doping in sport” it in fact focusses on the above three topics only, with the final three pages considering whether doping in sport should be considered a criminal offence.

This first in a three part series of articles reviewing the Report will deal with its findings in respect of the “Knowledge and prevalence of doping in world athletics”.

This part of the Report deals with the original articles published in the The Sunday Times, and subsequently in a German television documentary called, “Top Secret Doping: How Russia makes its winners” which alleged that “significant numbers of leading endurance runners had recorded suspicious blood tests”. The suspicious results were the result of an analysis conducted by anti-doping experts of the data provided by athletes as a result of WADA’s introduction of the Athlete Biological Passport (“ABP”) over an 11 year period between the 2001 World Championships and the  2012 London Olympics.

In short, the journalists’ findings were that some 80% of medals won by Russian athletes during the period in question had been won by athletes who had, at some stage, provided a suspicious blood test.

The Report details the way in which the original investigations were undertaken and the background to the statements made by Russian whistleblower Liliya Shobukhova.

When considering the response of the IAAF, athletics’ governing body, to the allegations the Report is critical of its threat to seek an injunction in respect of The Sunday Times’s articles in August 2015, a threat dropped prior to publication. Instead, the IAAF issued a detailed response in which it denied it had “sat idly by and let [blood doping] happen”. The Report is also critical of the IAAF’s failure to share data with national anti-doping agencies and of the IAAF’s criticism of the investigative journalism that brought these issues to light.

The Report also covers WADA’s investigations into alleged Russian state sponsored doping and the subsequent inquiry by Professor Richard McLaren which would ultimately lead to calls for a complete ban of Russian athletes at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio  and the resignation of then IAAF President Lamine Diack.

As a result of the allegations the DCMS Committee was particularly interested in investigating what was known about the allegations of doping and corruption in the IAAF prior to the allegations being published. As a result Lord Coe, newly installed as President of the IAAF, was invited to give evidence on 2 December 2015.

During the DCMS Committee’s questioning Lord Coe was asked about his knowledge of systemic doping by Russian athlete. Lord Coe denied any knowledge of “the specific allegations that had been made around the corruption of anti-doping processes in Russia.”

After Lord Coe had given evidence, the BBC Panorama programme alleged that it had evidence that showed Lord Coe was in fact aware of the allegations concerning doping by Russian athletes.

This evidence related to the original German documentary and evidence provided by Ms. Shobukhova that she had, in April 2014, submitted a complaint concerning the son of Lamine Diack, Papa Massatta Diack, directly to the IAAF’s Ethics Committee with the assistance of Dave Bedford, former athlete and Director of the London Marathon. When no response was received to this complaint Mr Bedford sent an email to Lord Coe in August 2014 asking him to investigate and which contained a number of attachments that detailed the extent of the corruption, extortion and bribery allegations involving Russian athletes including Ms. Shubukhova.

In response to the BBC’s Panorama programme the IAAF released a statement saying:

“[Lord Coe] did receive an email from Dave Bedford that said ‘The attachments relate to an issue that is being investigated by the IAAF EC (Michael Beloff)’. This was enough for Seb Coe to forward the email to the Ethics Commission. He did not feel it was necessary to read the attachments.

You may think this shows a lack of curiosity. He, and we, would argue that it shows a full duty of care. Ensuring the right people in the right place were aware of allegations and were investigating them.”

The DCMS is highly critical of Lord Coe in respect of this issue saying in the Report:

“[Lord Coe’s] answers to us about [his knowledge of allegations of doping in Russian athletics before they were exposed in the original German documentary] were misleading: Lord Coe may not have read the email and attachments sent to him by David Bedford, whose actions we commend, but it stretches credibility to believe that he was not aware, at least in general terms, of the main allegations that the Ethics Commission had been asked to investigate.”

Lord Coe has responded to the findings in the Report in an article published in the Evening Standard newspaper by repeating his evidence to the DCMS Committee that he “is not an assiduous reader of emails”.

This section of the Report is interesting to those working in the sports sector not least because it is a common criticism that those at the top of Sports Governance are largely unaccountable.

In respect of such issues generally the Report states:

“We note the progress that the IAAF is making in establishing more independent processes for the investigation of serious complaints brought by whistleblowers. However, the Shobukhova case raises concerns about whether national or international sports federations are capable of investigating themselves when the allegations involve senior figures within the organisation itself. There is a real danger that internal politics inevitably plays a part in the process.”

Tomorrow, Sports Shorts will report on the DCMS Committee’s findings concerning British Cycling and Team Sky.

© Copyright 2018 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

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About this Author

Tim Lowles, Squire Patton Boggs Law Firm, Sport Litigation Attorney
Senior Associate

Tim Lowles is a Senior Associate in our Litigation Practice Group. Tim advises upon all aspects of commercial litigation with a particular emphasis on sport, contentious media and reputation management issues for companies, institutions and high profile individuals. He has been involved in a number of reported cases and was a member of the team which represented the Core Participant Victims in the Leveson Inquiry.

Tim has advised a number of household names from the sporting world on various issues ranging from contractual disputes to...

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