Michael Pavitt

For the second consecutive month a long-running investigation has concluded with a real page-turner.

Last month the International Biathlon Union (IBU)’s External Review Commission published the findings of its two-year investigation of the behaviour of Anders Besseberg and Nicole Resch, former IBU President and secretary general, respectively.

The report provided extensive and eye-watering details over the governing body’s leadership, including the lengths Russia went to influence Besseberg. The former IBU President was accused of having received up to $300,000 (£214,000/€247,000) in cash from Russian officials, as well as receiving watches, expensive hunting trips and the service of prostitutes.

In return, Besseberg was seen to have remained on Russia’s side.

Only a matter of weeks later and the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) has provided details of a similarly enthralling and disturbing episode, as its long-running investigation has concluded with sanctions against five Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) officials.

Former RusAF President Dmitry Shlyakhtin and Board member Artur Karamyan were both banned for four years for their role in the whereabouts case involving Russian high jumper Danil Lysenko, as well as their tampering, complicity, failing to report an anti-doping rule violation and failing to cooperate.

Former RusAF executive director Alexander Parkin, senior administrator Elena Orlova and anti-doping coordinator Elena Ikonnikova were also handed four year bans this week.

The investigation centred around the explanations for two of three whereabouts violations against Lysenko. One explanation given by the former world indoor and Youth Olympic champion was that he had spent a week in hospital with acute appendicitis, while the other blamed a car accident for his failure to submit whereabouts information by the given deadline.

A timeline produced by the AIU revealed how RusAF officials called a meeting with Lysenko, who had been competing as an authorised neutral athlete, and his coach on July 26 2018. The meeting came one day after he was notified of his third whereabouts violation a day earlier.

Former RusAF President Dmitry Shlyakhtin was one of five officials sanctioned this week ©Getty Images
Former RusAF President Dmitry Shlyakhtin was one of five officials sanctioned this week ©Getty Images

The meeting reportedly saw senior RusAF officials tell Lysenko how to prepare his explanation to the AIU, with subsequent days seeing a request to Karamyan to help provide a fake medical certificate.

Medical tests were later arranged and backdated when the AIU demanded further details, with Lysenko reportedly treated at the "SD Clinic" in Moscow. Lysenko then told the AIU he had incorrectly told them that he had stayed in a clinic in Krasnogorsk, as RusAF officials attempted to explain he had been treated in the capital Moscow.

Lysenko visited the building he had been claimed to have been treated at with Karamyan, only to discover it had been demolished. Despite visiting the demolished site, he still submitted the explanation to the AIU.

The high jumper later told his American lawyer Paul Greene about the conspiracy, with Greene instructing Lysenko to tell the truth or he would withdraw from representing him. Greene ultimately withdrew and was replaced by Russian lawyer Artem Patsev.

Lysenko would ultimately come clean to the AIU, admitting that the "documents and explanations that he had provided to the AIU relating to his medical explanation and his stay at the SD Clinic were false and fabricated." He reportedly admitted that "people from the Federation had helped him create the story, and that "it was a commonly made decision to develop this story."

An AIU and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency investigation had already concluded the building at the address of the alleged SD Clinic had been demolished in the winter of 2017, before Lysenko had reportedly been treated there.

Photographs used on the clinic's website were found to have been from an insurance company and another medical clinic, while no licenses have been given to the individuals who were said to have treated Lysenko.

The AIU had also uncovered that the car accident explanation had also been false, with RusAF officials submitting the incident had occurred on June 20 to explain the failure to file his whereabouts information by June 30. Lysenko had told RusAF the incident had actually occurred on July 18.

The long-running episode, which was central to World Athletics extending sanctions against RusAF, offers several interesting insights.

The first is that the case is another major stain on Russian sport, with the investigation again highlighting the culture of cover-ups and efforts from officials to obstruct justice.

The verdicts have represented another damaging stain on Russian sport ©Getty Images
The verdicts have represented another damaging stain on Russian sport ©Getty Images

Karamyan, in particular, was accused of wiping his computer during a crucial stage of the AIU investigation with deletions made. Phone records reportedly outlined Karamyan’s internet searches on how to delete emails and documents, which led to the Disciplinary Tribunal rejecting his claims of regular housekeeping of his computer.

Where have we heard similar efforts to dispose of evidence before?

The decisions also appear to indicate a degree of sympathy for Lysenko, with the Disciplinary Tribunal concluding that he had been "manipulated by those in authority at RusAF."

"He said he had been threatened on several occasions and that accounted for his conduct, initially denying the conspiracy, then admitting to it but not naming those involved," the Disciplinary Tribunal wrote. "The panel accepts that much of his subsequent conduct was conditioned by his concerns as to his own safety."

That conclusion, I would argue, has been one of the key reasons for Russian authorities to face sterner punishments for doping offences in recent years. It is concerning that an athlete would face such concern over their own safety that they would participate and subsequently increase their potential sanction.

Unless there is evidence of a clear cultural change, then athletes would appear to be at risk in the future. This alone offers justification for World Athletics’ strong stance against RusAF in recent years, with the governing body seeking proof of a cultural shift.

Lysenko, who still awaits the outcome of his own case, may have inadvertently also provided one of the biggest endorsements of the AIU to date.

Having discovered the demolished building in Moscow, the high jumper reportedly Whatsapped a friend saying: "Feels like I’m facing a four-year ban now. They just dig too deep and if they gonna learn I was lying to them about the clinic then it’s four."

A Disciplinary Tribunal said Danil Lysenko's conduct was conditioned by his concerns as to his own safety ©Getty Images
A Disciplinary Tribunal said Danil Lysenko's conduct was conditioned by his concerns as to his own safety ©Getty Images

The comment underlines the growing view that the AIU, established in 2017, will thoroughly investigate cases. The Lysenko affair is among several high-profile cases which have been pursued by the organisation in recent years.

The AIU investigation into the Lysenko affair and the recently concluded IBU External Review Commission case are both positive examples of efforts to pursue and punish wrongdoing in sport. It represents a shift from the previous criticism that sport has been all to willing to ignore or sweep issues under the carpet.

While this is clearly a positive, the negative aspect is that the recent cases have outlined the depths people are willing to stoop to in order to corrupt sport. The cases have also highlighted the lengths and what I imagine would be significant financial outlays to bring wrongdoing to light.

The AIU itself said the Lysenko cases have seen 22 key witness interviews concluded, 14 electronic storage devices acquired and forensic analysis of over six terabytes of electronic data conducted, as well as the translation of around 7,000 documents or records from Russian to English.

That these thorough investigations are happening for sport is a good thing. The fact that they are necessary is saddening.