International Athletics Threatened by Doping Scandal

Erik Bernstein crisis communications, crisis management, Crisis Response, international crisis management, public relations, reputation management, sports crisis management 1 Comment

Did the regulating body allow suspicious athletes to compete and win over a 10+ year span?

A new report from The Sunday Times sent shocks racing through the sporting world thanks to serious allegations of an absolute epidemic of doping by competitors at the world’s biggest events.

What sparked it all was a leak to the paper and German broadcaster ARD/WDR which included results of more than 12,000 International Association of Athletics Federation blood tests dated from 2001-20012. According to anti-doping experts brought in to analyze the files, they contain outrageous findings that show the true magnitude of doping in the highest levels of sport, including:

  • More than 800 of the athletes tested recorded one or more “abnormal results”. This is defined as having less than a 1/100 chance of being natural.
  • One third of medals throughout endurance events at the Olympics and World during this time period were won by athletes who recorded surpicious tests.
  • Some finals saw every athlete in medal position record a suspicious test.
  • Over 80% of medals won by Russian competitors went to athletes who recorded suspicious results either before or after the event.

On Sunday the IAAF responded with a holding statement promising a “detailed response” to follow:

The IAAF is aware of serious allegations made against the integrity and competence of its anti-doping programme.

The relevant allegations were broadcast on WDR (ARD) in Germany yesterday and have been repeated in an article in the Sunday Times newspaper today. They are largely based on analysis of an IAAF Data Base of private and confidential medical data which has been obtained without consent. The IAAF is now preparing a detailed response to both media outlets and will reserve the right to take any follow up action necessary to protect the rights of the IAAF and its athletes.

The full statement will be distributed by email to all the IAAF press release subscribers and will be available on the home page of the IAAF’s website –

At the time of this writing it is early morning in Monaco, home of the IAAF, and we have yet to see a further response. While holding statements do buy time, the enormous amount of rumor and innuendo surrounding this issue dictates that the organization gather the facts and get in front of the story as quickly as possible.

Whether the IAAF will heed the crisis management lessons learned from the cycling world’s poor handling of its own doping scandals remains to be seen, but considering the parallels between the two situations one can easily picture the slippery slope the athletic regulator is perched upon right now.

UPDATE 8/4/15: The IAAF has released a statement strongly denouncing these reports as inaccurate. More details to follow.

Jonathan & Erik Bernstein

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