Russia warms to controversial TUEs after doping scandals
MOSCOW (AP) After years of using hacked data to vilify Western
athletes as cheats who bend the rules to take banned substances,
Russia is warming to a controversial part of the anti-doping system.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in 2017 that the country's
rivals were using Therapeutic Use Exemptions to game the system.
The exemptions allow athletes to treat medical conditions with
substances that would otherwise be banned.
If they were really ill, Putin said, ''maybe they should enter the
Late last month, though, Putin gave a high-profile speaking slot at
a meeting of his Fitness and Sports Council to a veteran gymnastics
official who urged Russians to apply for more TUEs.
''We must use this opportunity on a legal basis,'' Irina
Viner-Usmanova told the televised meeting, calling on the sports
ministry and the government's Federal Medical-Biological Agency to
Russia's years of doping scandals, she said, had taught Russia to
use legitimate avenues properly.
''This experience let us be more attentive and law-abiding when
taking medical products,'' Viner-Usmanova said.
Statistics show TUEs are in demand as Russia returns to sports
following bans, like from last year's Winter Olympics.
The Russian anti-doping agency, known as RUSADA, received a record
101 TUE applications last year, and is on track to breeze past that
number this year. After years when doping was widespread in Russian
sport, the agency hails the rise as the result of better education
and legitimate sports medicine.
Despite the rise in applications, RUSADA says athletes and team
doctors struggle to understand the system. Only 22 applications
were approved last year.
Officials from RUSADA and the UK Anti-Doping Agency, which handled
Russian TUEs until September, turned down applications which lacked
medical documents, or from athletes asking for medicines that
weren't actually banned.
RUSADA deputy CEO Margarita Pakhnotskaya argued that even the more
clueless applications at least indicate growing respect for the
rules. She said ''one or two'' filings seemed like an attempt to
cheat and were passed on to RUSADA's investigations unit.
While some Russian athletes may be getting TUEs direct from
international sports federations, RUSADA's numbers remain
relatively low by European standards. Not all agencies publish TUE
data, though Norway granted 85 applications and refused nine last
year, while German figures for 2017 show 72 approvals and seven
In the high-stakes world of Olympic sports, athletes can risk a ban
for failing to declare some relatively common medications. Without
the TUE system, athletes who get injured or have longer-term
conditions like asthma might have to spend long periods on the
sidelines until medicines left their system completely, or risk
their health by going without treatment.
Russia's ire at Western athletes followed regular hacks by the
Fancy Bears group - which U.S. law enforcement said last year was a
cover for Russian military intelligence.
The Fancy Bears' website, which once promised ''sensational proof
of famous athletes taking doping substances,'' now bears a message
that it has been seized by the FBI. The Russian government denies
involvement in hacking.
The Fancy Bears published dozens of athletes' medical histories,
though no Russian TUEs. Stripped of their context - injuries or
illness - many applications were legitimate but looked suspicious.
One case in particular rocked the world of cycling. The leaked
documents revealed that Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins
sought TUEs for injections of triamcinolone acetate before key
races in 2011, 2012 and 2013. He denied wrongdoing and was not
banned, but a series of high-profile investigations damaged his
reputation and that of Team Sky.
The TUE process still carries a stigma in Russia.
Russian biathlete Margarita Vasilyeva told state TV last month that
despite having asthma, she refused to get permission to use an
''It's not really honest, I think,'' said Vasilyeva, who faces
separate doping-related difficulties after being accused of failing
to make herself available for testing on three occasions.
Pakhnotskaya, whose job includes running educational seminars on
anti-doping across Russia, doesn't want athletes to dismiss TUEs
out of hand. After all, who knows when they might get ill?
''I don't think all Russian athletes or all Russian officials
should wake up and think how great TUE requests are,'' she said.
''But each one who has the right to get it should know the
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