MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s Athletics Federation (VFLA) president Valentin Balakhnichev wants doping to become a criminal offense in his country, he said on Friday.
“We need to treat doping as a class A drug,” the 65-year-old Balakhnichev, who will leave his post this month, told Reuters.
Russian athletics has recently been rocked by a number of doping revelations. Three Olympic walk champions, Olga Kaniskina, Valery Borchin and Sergei Kirdyapkin, were found guilty of doping offences and handed long bans in January.
This led to the head coach of the Russian athletics team, Valentin Maslakov, resigning on Jan. 23 while Balakhnichev will step down on Feb. 17 having been president since 1990.
Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA suspended a number of athletes in January, including Kaniskina, Borchin and Kirdyapkin.
A German television documentary, broadcast by ZDF/ARD in December, alleged systematic doping in Russian sport.
It featured an undercover video of what it said were athletes and coaches admitting covering up positive drug tests.
The allegations have not been verified by Reuters and Balakhnichev has previously denounced them as “a pack of lies”.
He conceded that the last two months had been the hardest of his 25 years as federation president but defended his record.
“This has not been a shameful period. It has been a period where we are continuing the fight against doping, which I have led for all these years,” Balakhnichev said.
“We are constantly updating the anti-doping laws. In 2008 we created the independent RUSADA anti-doping agency while we have made our coaches more answerable to our sportsmen.”
Balakhnichev has previously failed in his bid to make doping a criminal offense.
”I said that this should be done quite a few years ago to make the punishment a lot more serious than just a two-year disqualification. However, the VFLA is unable to change the laws of the Russian Federation.
“Discussions took place regarding this topic and opinion was split into two camps. Half supported this move, however the other half, who asked -- ‘Do you want to put our sportsmen in jail?’ -- were unsure. Therefore doping in Russia has not yet become a criminal offense.”
According to Balakhnichev, the fight against doping in Russia should be carried out at government level.
”Today the amount of doping products being sold around the world reaches the levels of illegal drugs.
“If doping is seen as equal to taking drugs then it will become more effective to fight it. Anyway we will be able to decrease the trafficking of doping products in our country.”
”Sport has become part of a huge commercial system which involves sums of money running into billions.
“The old saying ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ does not work any more. You need to add the word ‘Cleaner’ to the list,” Balakhnichev added.
The country’s walkers have been at the forefront of the doping problem. Since 2011 RUSADA has disqualified some 50 sportsmen and women and more than 20 were walkers.
“Over the last few years Erythropoietin (EPO) has become more and more common,” said Balakhnichev.
”It is used to increase stamina. Walking in this sense is one of the hardest sports. Therefore unfortunately amongst walkers it has become more and more popular.
“We asked RUSADA to carry out an investigation into the practices of the National Walking Centre in Saransk. All the walkers who have been disqualified came through one system, which we did not keep a sharp enough eye on.”
Despite the doping problems Balakhnichev said his tenure as VFLA president had been a fruitful one.
“Looking back I can say that I have done a lot for Russian athletics. We have hosted two world championships in 2006 and 2013. Our teams have competed well, even if you don’t count those medals that will soon be taken away from us,” he said.
“Of course the doping scandals have spoilt my reputation but this is life. You need to know that a warning awaits you. However, the threat we have encountered is not fatal. We can get over this.”
($1 = 0.8839 Euros)
Editing by Ken Ferris