German doc alleges state doping in Russia

A German documentary has presented evidence to back-up serious allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russian athletics.

German doc alleges state doping in Russia
Is the glass ever half-full when it comes to doping? Photo: DPA

The 60-minute documentary "Secret Doping Dossier: How Russia produces its Winners" was aired by state broadcaster ARD on Wednesday and points the finger
at Russian Athletics Federation president and IAAF treasurer Valentin Balakhnichev amongst others.

It presents hard-hitting accusations by 800m runner Iuliia Stepanova, who is banned until January for a doping violation, and her husband Vitali Stepanov, who worked for Russia's Anti-doping Agency RUSADA between 2008 and 2011.

According to the documentary, the couple have left Russia due to their allegations.

"You can not achieve your goals without doping. You have to dope, that's how it is in Russia," insists Stepanov.

His wife backs up his claims and paints a bleak picture of doping in Russia.

Common practises include athletes travelling under an assumed name to avoid being tested while only those who have not yet failed doping tests are allowed
to travel to major competitions. 

"If an athlete is caught doping, they (the system) just discard them and take a new one," said the 28-year-old Iuliia.

Stepanova backs up her statements with footage she secretly recorded of numerous Russian functionaries, including athletics coach Alexei Melnikov, which includes her being offered anabolic steroids in one clip. 

"Most athletes dope, around 99 percent. And you get everything. The less detectable the drug, the more expensive it is," says discus thrower Yevgeniya
Pecherina in one clip. 

Stepanov insists Russian government agencies control RUSADA's testings and he says unknown athletes are allowed to be caught, while failed doping tests of famous athletes are ignored.

RUSADA's managing director Nikita Kamaev has already rejected the allegations.

Marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova, who is also currently banned for doping offences, claims on camera that she handed over €450,000 to be able to compete at the 2012 Olympic Games.

At the time, the Russian Athletics Federation had already submitted her unusual blood readings from 2009 until 2011, which had been deemed a doping violation by the International Athletics Association Federation (IAAF), but had not been punished.

Shobukhova claims Melnikov had demanded the money be used to ensure officials turned a blind eye to allow her to compete.

"We handed over the money and they told us, everything will be fine," said Shobukhova, who claims to have documentation to prove Russian Athletics Federation president and IAAF treasurer Balakhnichev knew what had happened.

David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), has described the documentary's findings as "shocking".

"What we need to do now is to address these things fearlessly, but also to ensure that those who have already been fearless will be protected," he said.

In East Germany, athletes were subjected to state-enforced doping, often unwittingly with some former athletes taking drastic measures to deal with the consequences. 

A bill recently introduced by Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière and Justice Minister Heiko Maas would punish German dopers with jail time. 

SEE ALSO: West German doping probe sparks concern

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Germany should make cannabis available at pharmacies not ‘coffee shops’, says FDP boss

Germany's possible new government could well relax the country's strict cannabis laws. But FDP leader Christian Lindner says he doesn't want to go down the Netherlands route.

A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021.
A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

The Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) are set to engage in coalition talks in a bid to become the next German government.  And the future of cannabis will likely be one of the topics to be thrashed out.

In drug policy, the three parties are not too far apart in their positions. So it’s possible that the drug could be decriminalised.

However, nothing is set in stone and the parties still haven’t come to a common line on the question of where and to what extent cannabis could be accessed. 

The leader of the Liberal FDP, Christian Lindner, has now come out in favour of allowing cannabis products such as hashish to be sold in a controlled manner. 

Consumers should be allowed “to purchase a quantity for their own use, for example, in a pharmacy after health education,” Lindner told a live broadcast on German daily Bild on Sunday.

Lindner said he was sceptical about the sale in “coffee shops” according to the Dutch model. “I am in favour of controlled distribution, and therefore health education must be able to take place,” he said.

READ MORE: Patients in Germany still face hurdles accessing medical marijuana

People in the Netherlands can access cannabis products in coffee shops under the country’s tolerant drugs policy. However coffee shops have to follow certain strict conditions. For instance they are not allowed to sell large quantities to an individual. 

Lindner said his main aims were about “crime and health prevention” and not with “legalising a right to intoxication”.

It’s not clear if Lindner advocates for prescription-only cannabis for medical use, or an over-the-counter model. 

The FDP previously said that they they are in favour of the creation of licensed shops. Their manifesto highlights the health benefits, tax windfalls and reallocation of police resources that legalisation would create.

The Green party also want licensed shops, as well as a whole new approach to drug control starting with the controlled legalisation of marijuana. The Greens state that “strict youth and user protection” would be the centre point of their legislation and hope to “pull the rug from under the black market”.

The SPD also want a reform of Germany’s prohibition stance – but are more cautious than the smaller parties on the legalisation aspect. They would like to initially set up pilot projects. 

READ ALSO: Why Germany could be on the brink of legalising cannabis

Controversial topic

So far, the sale of cannabis is officially banned in Germany. Possession of cannabis is also currently illegal across the entire country. Those caught carrying the substance can face anything from a fine to five years in jail.

However, the justice system generally looks away if you are caught carry small quantities for personal use unless you have a previous conviction.

The definition of personal use differs from state to state, with Berlin having the most liberal rules and Bavaria the tightest.

It is estimated that around four million people regularly use cannabis in Germany.

Representatives of police unions in Germany have warned against legalisation. They argue that cannabis is an often trivialised drug that can lead to considerable health problems and social conflicts, especially among young people.

Oliver Malchow, from the GdP police union, said that “it doesn’t make any sense to legalise another dangerous drug on top of alcohol”.

The current Ministry of Health also continues to oppose the legalisation of cannabis, a spokesperson for Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) made clear. Cannabis is a dangerous substance and therefore legalisation is not advisable, the spokesman said.