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Witnesses Call For More Action Against Doping In Russian Sports

Russian runner and whistle-blower Yulia Stepanova
Russian runner and whistle-blower Yulia Stepanova

The United States and international sports authorities should do more to address the Russian doping scandal, whistle-blowers and sports officials have testified.

The head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency blasted the International Olympic Committee at a hearing in Washington on July 25 for failing to hold Russia fully accountable for doping in sports.

Travis Tygart said that the committee, by allowing some Russian athletes to take part in the Rio and Pyeongchang Olympic games despite evidence of widespread doping in Russian sports, "chose not to stand up for clean athletes and against institutionalized doping."

"Certainly, history will not judge that decision kindly," Tygart said at a hearing on doping in sports held by the U.S. Helsinki Commission, a U.S. agency that monitors human rights in Europe.

Whistle-blowers who helped expose Russia's alleged doping program said the United States should enact legislation making international sports doping a crime, but they said the problem in Russia likely won't be resolved as long as Vladimir Putin remains president.

"Doping fraud is one more example of the gangster state that Vladimir Putin has created in Russia," said Jim Walden, an attorney for whistle-blower Grigory Rodchenkov, a former Moscow doping lab director who is living in hiding in the United States and did not attend the hearing.

"There are some in our government who refuse to confront Russia for its abject criminality," Walden said.

Rodchenkov has said that doping in Russia stems from Putin's command to his Sports Ministry to "win at any cost."

In written testimony, Rodchenkov and another whistle-blower, Yulia Stepanova, said Russian athletes who participate in the doping program are essentially following orders, fearing that speaking out would mean the end of their careers, or possibly even lead to their deaths.

"You will lose your job, your career, and even fear for the safety of you and your family," said Stepanova, a former Russian track athlete. "You will be called a liar and a traitor if you stand up against the system that unfortunately still exists in Russia today."

Asked by U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee how to end Russian doping, Stepanova said, "It should start from the top because if it started from the top, they...would stop doping."

"If Mr. Putin had a different attitude and expressed that, it would stop?" Jackson Lee asked.

"Yes, I think so," Stepanova said.

Stepanova said the U.S. Congress should pass a bill pending in the House of Representatives that, like legislation passed in several European countries, would allow the United States to police doping that occurs outside its borders.

The bill has bipartisan support in the House, but has not been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

The hearing also featured testimony from Katie Uhlaender, who finished fourth in the skeleton in the Sochi Olympics in 2014 behind Yelena Nikitina of Russia.

Nikitina's bronze medal was later stripped for suspected doping before the Court of Arbitration for Sport restored it on the eve of the Pyeongchang Olympics in February.

Uhlaender said she feels that she was unfairly denied a medal twice, although it's still possible she could prevail on appeal.

"My moment was stolen," Uhlaender said. "A line was crossed. It erased the meaning of sport and the Olympics as I knew it."

Tygart called on corporations that sponsor the Olympics to join the effort to crack down on doping.

"If the governments of the world aren't going to step up and do something about it, where are the corporations? They're profiting off the backs of these athletes," Tygart said.

"All it would take would be a couple phone calls from them to get this situation fixed and cleaned up. But where are they? They're sitting there counting the money," he said.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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