Russian doping scandal

Whistle-blowing couple branded as traitors

LONDON • The sportswoman who blew the whistle on doping in Russian athletics is in hiding abroad, pursued by a barrage of criticism from former colleagues and officials at home who accuse her of betraying her country.

Yulia Stepanova, an international runner who was herself suspended for doping offences, secretly recorded Russian coaches and athletes over almost two years, describing how they used performance-enhancing drugs.

The 29-year-old's evidence formed a major part of the investigation that led to Russian athletes being suspended from international competition this month.

It triggered the deepest crisis in Russian sport since the boycott-hit 1980 Moscow Olympics.

While her role has been described as courageous by supporters abroad, she has faced accusations at home of being a liar, and betraying her countrymen for money or in exchange for a residence permit in a wealthy country.

On Friday, Kristina Ugarova and Tatyana Myazina, two of the five Russian athletes the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) recommended be suspended for life for doping, vowed to sue Stepanova and German TV channel ARD that aired incriminating evidence against them.

"She's a traitor," said Vladimir Kazarin, Stepanova's former coach who was named as someone involved in doping in the investigation report commissioned by Wada. He denies the allegations. "She betrayed me, betrayed her homeland. That's why she's a traitor."

Before her accusations were made public last year, Stepanova and her husband Vitaly moved to Germany, where they set up home and kept a low profile.

The family were on the move again in September this year, to North America. Someone connected with Wada had arranged for them to relocate. It is not known where they are living.

Russian sports officials said they did not know anything about any threats against Stepanova or her husband that could have compelled them to seek refuge abroad.

"They need to get citizenship (in a foreign country) and that's why they made this up.

"We don't threaten them," said Anna Glushenko, a Russian Athletics Federation spokesman.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said if Stepanova genuinely wished to tackle doping in her sport, she could have approached a Russian federation official with her concerns. "There was no need to make a film," he noted.

Hajo Seppelt, the German documentary-maker who worked with Stepanova and her husband, said they were motivated by a genuine desire to prove that there was wrongdoing in Russian athletics.

"For me, they were the most impressive whistle-blowers in the history of sport," he added.

"We didn't pay them anything. We didn't ask them to do so.

"They wanted to prove it."

Since the release of the Wada-commissioned report and the uproar that followed, the couple have made only one public comment, issued on Nov 14 via ARD.

"We are at a safe place," they said. "That truth in sports matters makes us feel glad. We don't regret anything we have done."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline 'Whistle-blowing couple branded as traitors'. Print Edition | Subscribe