Column: Shut down Russia's production line of dope cheats
PARIS (AP) A thick length of chain and a sturdy padlock.
The new boss of athletics could arm himself with both on what should be his No. 1 mission after he is elected this August: cleaning up or shutting down a Russian training center that has become a notorious production line of dope cheats. He could chain himself to its doors in protest and hang a sign around his neck, saying: ''Russia, this must stop!''
If he takes the overnight train to Saransk, 600 kilometers (350 miles) southeast of Moscow, the new IAAF president could use the time to wade through the dossier of evidence, thick with the names of more than a dozen athletes connected with its Olympic training center who have failed doping tests.
He will note that these cheats, all from the Olympic sport of race walking, included world and Olympic champions, ruining not only the discipline's credibility but, by association, also splashing doubt over everyone they competed with and the believability of anti-doping efforts.
He also will see that the majority of these athletes worked, at one time or another, with the same coach, Viktor Chegin. And he should be revolted and angered to read how, despite this sustained epidemic of doping over more than a decade and involving a broad array of banned drugs and methods, Chegin continued to coach at the Saransk training center that bears his name.
At this point, Sebastian Coe or Sergei Bubka, both IAAF vice presidents now running against each other for the top job, should understand that their necks and reputations as great ex-athletes are on the line here, too. Winning the presidency will be an empty victory if they then fail to deal quickly, decisively and transparently with the crisis that is doping in Russia. Everything else they subsequently achieve in athletics' top job will be infected and soiled by this festering scandal if they don't clean it up first.
Bubka seems to get this. He sent lengthy, considered replies to Associated Press questions about the Saransk center and Chegin. Among other things, the former pole vault star said he wants an IAAF ''system which makes it possible to punish cheating coaches or other members of entourage and prevents them from influencing athletes.''
Coe's anemic, formulaic response to AP was far less enlightening or encouraging.
''I am aware that the IAAF has already opened a dossier on this issue based on allegations of serious doping infractions. It is IAAF policy not to comment on pending doping cases'' said his statement.
That's it? Where's the passion and urgency? Due process, of course, must take its plodding course. But it shouldn't prevent those who want to be leaders from also having the courage to call a spade a spade. Coe and Bubka should set the tone for their presidency by dropping diplomatic niceties. Kick up a much bigger fuss and shame Russia loudly and publicly into more decisive and visible action. They must be far more vocal than the man one of them will succeed, outgoing IAAF President Lamine Diack. Whatever pressure has been applied on Russia behind the scenes on his watch hasn't been enough.
The World Anti-Doping Agency is investigating allegations of systematic doping, corruption and cover-ups in Russia. And Chegin himself is part of the IAAF probe, spokesman Nick Davies confirmed to the AP. But there is not enough transparency about what headway investigators are making and whether Russia is cooperating. And heads aren't rolling fast enough.
The first stop for Coe or Bubka after their election should be Saransk, to learn first-hand how and why millions of rubles were poured into what has become the most glaring epicenter of doping in Russian athletics. The center there took the name of its head coach, Chegin, in 2010 after its athletes swept all three golds in men's and women's race walking at the 2009 World Championships. All three are now serving doping bans.
By the AP's count, 16 walkers plus a distance runner who have trained under Chegin are serving or have served doping bans since 2005. Two others are provisionally suspended for suspected doping violations.
''Russia was the best country for race walking in the world. Now we will see that it is not true,'' IAAF race walking committee member Luis Saladie said in an AP phone interview before that group met last weekend to discuss the Russia situation and other issues.
''For a lot of athletes it's really frustrating,'' said Australian Olympic walking medalist Jared Tallent. ''We just feel like we're screaming out for something to happen. But nothing ever seems to get done about it.''
Barring Russia from the next World Championships in Beijing this August would be unfair on Russian athletes who aren't doping. But Coe and Bubka should dangle the prospect of such a sanction falling later on their watch and start barking far more loudly now.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester