Saturday, 16 June 2018

Political Footballs

I haven't been able to work up any real enthusiasm for the 2018 World Cup, largely because the host nation, Russia, is synonymous with organised cheating in world sport these days, along with other even more infamous deeds including:

  • the shooting down of Flight MH17
  • the fomenting of civil war in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea
  • the murder of Alexander Litvinenko by poisoning him with radioactive Polonium
  • the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, on UK soil

As with the Sochi Winter Olympics the event is being used to bolster the image of Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, and this Peter Brookes cartoon from The Times sums up the whole nasty business rathe well.


Putin's Russia (27/05/18)

The BBC reports that a Joint Investigating Team (JIT) representing the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine has concluded that Russia was responsible for the murder of 298 innocent people when Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

At the time President Putin denied all responsibility and no doubt will continue to doing so even though there is a clear pattern of Russia's culpability on the world stage:
  • The murder of Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive Polonium in 2006
  • Team Russia's systematic cheating in the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014
  • Large-scale, organised Russian interference in America's presidential election in 2016
  • The attempted assassination of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia on UK soil in 2018 with a military grade nerve agent 
No wonder Russia is widely regarded as a rogue state these days, even if Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn are both badly out of step with public opinion.


MH17 missile owned by Russian brigade, investigators say
Media caption - Investigators said they had evidence of the route taken by a Russian missile convoy

The missile that downed a Malaysia Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014 belonged to a Russian brigade, international investigators say.

For the first time, the Dutch-led team said the missile had come from a unit based in western Russia.

All 298 people on board the Boeing 777 died when it broke apart in mid-air flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

It was hit by a missile fired from rebel-held territory in Ukraine. Russia says none of its weapons was used.

But on Thursday Wilbert Paulissen, a Dutch official from the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), told reporters: "All the vehicles in a convoy carrying the missile were part of the Russian armed forces."

He restated the JIT's conclusion that the plane had been destroyed by a Russian-made Buk missile, adding that it had been supplied by the country's 53rd anti-aircraft brigade in Kursk.

At a news conference in the Dutch city of Utrecht, the investigators also showed social media pictures which they said traced the route the missile convoy had taken to reach eastern Ukraine.

What happened to MH17?

The incident occurred at the height of the conflict between government troops and pro-Russian separatists.

The plane left Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on 17 July 2014 and was due to arrive at Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia on the following day.

Malaysia plane crash: What we know
MH17: Our special report
Who were the victims?

The plane lost contact with air traffic control about 50km (30 miles) from the Russia-Ukraine border.

Media captionIn 2015, the Dutch Safety Board released an animated video showing the flight path of the plane

It crashed in the Donetsk area, in territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Footage was later released by the Ukrainian government suggesting that a Buk missile had been brought in from Russia on the day of the crash, and then taken back across the border the next day. 

What has been said about the incident?

In October 2015 the Dutch Safety Board concluded that the plane had indeed been hit by a Buk missile.

How does a Buk missile system work?

In September 2016, the JIT - which includes officials from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine - reached a similar conclusion in a preliminary report.

It said it had "irrefutable evidence" that the missile had been brought in from Russian territory and fired from a field controlled by pro-Russian fighters.

The investigators simulated various trajectories of the warhead. They showed it had exploded metres above the aeroplane's nose, showering the aircraft with fragments.

On Thursday Russia restated its position that none of its forces had been involved. "Not a single anti-aircraft missile system from the Russian Federation has ever crossed the Russia-Ukraine border," the defence ministry in Moscow said.

Meanwhile Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko promised in a Facebook post (in Ukrainian) that he would "spare no effort to ensure that the actions of the Russian Federation as a state which supports terrorism get an appropriate assessment" in the International Court of Justice.

Putin's Russia and 'Disinformation' (07/04/18)

Image result for nothing to see here,move along + images

While Russia continues to pour out disinformation about the chemical weapon attack in Salisbury, here's how the Kremlin responded to the independent investigation into the biggest doping scandal in world sport - there's ever been.

If you ask me, Jeremy Corbyn supporters and their fellow conspiracy theorists are being had - big time!


Putin's Russia (15/12/18)

Image result for nothing to see here,move along + images

"Nothing to see here, move along", seems to be the response of Putin's Russian into the biggest doping scandal there's ever been.

The independent report was carried out at the request of WADA (World Anti Doping Agency)   and exposes cheating on an industrial scale - not just on the part of individual athletes and rouge coaches, but at the highest levels of the Russian state.

Read the following report from the BBC which includes a link to McLaren's findings in relation to the London Olympics in 2012 and further Olympic events in 2013 and 2014.

Doping is the course of modern sport, from the Olympic Games to professional cycling, yet instead of being part of the solution the Russian Government under President Putin appears to be a huge part of the problem.

Russian doping: McLaren report says more than 1,000 athletes implicated

BBC Sport
The report's author, Richard McLaren (centre), said doping took place on 'an unprecedented scale'

More than 1,000 Russians - including Olympic medallists - benefited from a state-sponsored doping programme between 2011 and 2015, a report claims.

At least 30 sports, including football, covered up samples, the report says.

"It was a cover-up that evolved from uncontrolled chaos to an institutionalised and disciplined medal-winning conspiracy," said the report's author, Richard McLaren.

Lawyer McLaren said London 2012 was "corrupted on an unprecedented scale".

The report also implicates medallists at the 2013 World Athletics Championships in Moscow, and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

According to the report, salt and coffee were used to manipulate Russian samples.

The report added the system was refined over the course of the 2012 Olympics, 2013 Worlds and Winter Olympics to protect likely Russian medal winners.

Russia doping - How we got here
Life on the run for Russian whistleblower

Russia won 72 medals at the London Games, 21 of which were gold, and 33 medals at Sochi, 13 of which were gold.

McLaren's second report added depth and supporting evidence to the initial findings published in July - that Russia operated a state-sponsored doping programme.

That first report was met with denials from Russia and calls for more proof from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Writing in his latest report, McLaren says: "The desire to win medals superseded their collective moral and ethical compass and Olympic values of fair play."

He said international sports competitions had been "unknowingly hijacked by the Russians" and sports fans have been "deceived" for years.

"It is time that stops," he added.

In a statement, Russia's sports ministry said it would examine the report but insisted on "the absence of a state programme of support for doping sport". It said it would "continue to fight doping from a position of zero tolerance".

Russian MP Dmitry Svishchev, who is also the head of Russia's Curling Federation, was quoted by Ria Novosti news agency as saying: "This is what we expected. There's nothing new, only empty allegations against all of us. If you are Russian, you'll get accused of every single sin."

When asked for a reaction to those comments, McLaren said: "I would say read the report. Its findings are not challengeable. He is reacting in a vacuum because he has not read the report."

The new report also found:
  • At the Sochi Games, two Russian female ice hockey players had male urine samples.
  • A total of 15 Russian medal winners at London 2012 were implicated [10 medals have since been taken away].
  • The samples of 12 medal-winning athletes at Sochi 2014 had evidence of tampering.
  • Six winners of 21 Paralympic medals at Sochi had their samples tampered with.
  • Emails were found asking for instructions from the Russian Ministry of Sport on what to do with a positive sample - save or quarantine?
  • Spreadsheets were found containing lists of athletes whose samples had been saved.
  • A clean urine bank was kept in Moscow.
  • A cocktail of drugs - known as the "Duchess" - with a very short detection window was developed to assist athletes in evading doping.
  • Salt and instant coffee granules were added to clean urine samples to match the appearance of the positive samples.
  • Three samples at Sochi had salt readings that were physiologically impossible.
Investigators have published a searchable database of all the non-confidential evidence they have gathered here.

The full report can be read here.

How urine sample swapping worked

The first McLaren report explained how disappearing positive drug tests were secreted through "mouse holes" drilled by spies. 

That was based on information received from Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, a director of the anti-doping laboratory at Sochi 2014.

He had said the Russian secret service developed ways of opening sample bottles and replacing their contents without intervention being detected. 

He had said the Russian secret service developed ways of opening sample bottles and replacing their contents without intervention being detected. The new report claims to have compiled clear details on exactly how the sample bottles in Sochi were tampered with.

The new report claims to have compiled clear details on exactly how the sample bottles in Sochi were tampered with.

Investigators used a tool which matched the description of one used by the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service), which leaves tiny marks and scratches when the inside of a cap is opened.
An expert was given 13 bottles, one of which had not been tampered with, which he immediately spotted. 
In cases of alleged sample swapping, investigators found there were scratches and marks on the inside of the cap, along with DNA inconsistencies.

Analysis - BBC sports editor Dan Roan

Once again the gory details of Russian state-sponsored cheating have been laid bare by Professor Richard McLaren.

The difference now is those claims have been backed up with concrete evidence.

Some of the details really do defy belief, and the fact the Russian government is so strongly implicated will inevitably lead to calls for Russian athletes to be banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics, and perhaps even for the 2018 football World Cup to be taken away from the country.

Reaction - 'hugely significant'

The IOC said the report showed "there was a fundamental attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and on sport in general".

It said it would re-analyse all 254 urine samples collected from Russian athletes at Sochi 2014.

UK Anti-Doping chief executive Nicole Sapstead said the report was "hugely significant for sport and those who fight to keep it clean".

She added: "Everyone engaged in sport needs to ensure that the right processes, sanctions and safeguards are in place to protect everyone's right to clean, fair and honest sport."

She also called for more funding to support investigations.

Travis Tygart, chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency said the Russian Olympic Committee should be suspended, and no sporting events should be held in the country until "all the individuals who participated in the corruption are held accountable".

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) described the report's findings as "unprecedented and astonishing", adding: "They strike right at the heart of the integrity and ethics of sport."

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the body that governs world athletics, said: "It is time that this manipulation stops." It said it will take further action once it is able to examine the latest report.

British marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe said Russia had committed a "huge fraud". She added: "We need to know this cannot happen ever again."

Katherine Grainger, Britain's most decorated female Olympian, told BBC Radio 5 live: "This is a reminder that, along with all those high points in sport, there is a very dark side. It's depressing and it's slightly soul-destroying that it's on this scale."

Paralympic table tennis champion Will Bayley said: "I do have compassion for the athletes. Because if they were forced into it, and they are never going to be able to compete in the sport that they love, then that's really sad."

UK sports minister Tracey Crouch said: "The sheer scale of what has been uncovered underlines just how much more needs to be done.

"We will continue to assist on this front, including in Russia, where UK Anti-Doping is assisting Wada by managing a testing programme that we hope will lead to Russia becoming compliant with the Wada."

What is the reaction in Russia?

Stanislav Pozdnyakov, vice-president of the Russian Olympic Committee, told state news agency R-Sport the report contains "nothing new".

He said Russian athletes "should train calmly" for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Igor Lebedev, deputy speaker of the Russian parliament and a member of the executive committee of the Russian Football Federation, said: "This is yet another torrent of lies, disinformation, rumours and fables."

Natalia Gart, president of the Russian Luge Federation, said: "Where are the facts? You can say this is nothing but rubbish... I am convinced that all of our athletes are clean and the silver medals that we won at Sochi are well deserved."
What is Russia doing about doping?

The Russian Investigations Committee - the country's main anti-corruption body - continues to investigate criminal cases that have been launched.

The committee says 60 athletes have so far been questioned.

Senior officials from Russia's sports ministry, its anti-doping agency and the Russian Athletics Federation are also said to have been questioned.

On Wednesday, Russia's anti-doping agency (Rusada) appointed former double Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva to chair its new board.

The move was questioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), which said Rusada broke an agreement it would be consulted before any appointment was made.

Isinbayeva, 34, was strongly critical of Wada's recommendation that all Russian athletes be banned from Rio 2016.

McLaren was asked whether Russians athletes could be trusted in the future.

He said: "I think the answer to that is yes but they need to reform themselves. I've spoken with many Russian officials since July and they are putting together a very comprehensive programme which, if implemented properly, will make a major difference."
What could happen next?

Wada says it will now pass evidence on Russian athletes' doping to the relevant international sporting federations and governing bodies.

In a news conference on Thursday, IOC president Thomas Bach said the McLaren report's findings would be taken up by two further commissions.

Only once those commissions had made their recommendations could the IOC decide what steps to take, he said.

"As soon as we have the report it will be handed over to the two commissions, who have already undertaken preparatory work," Bach said.

"But if you ask me for my private opinion then personally if you have an athlete being part of such a manipulation system, clearly I would not like to see this person compete again."

More on the IOC's two commissions

The IOC says its 'Inquiry Commission', chaired by former president of Switzerland Samuel Schmid, will address the "institutional conspiracy across summer and winter sports athletes" with particular regard to Sochi 2014.

Its 'Disciplinary Commission', chaired by IOC member Denis Oswald, will address "doping and manipulation of samples concerning the Russian athletes who participated at Sochi 2014".
What has already been done?

In May, McLaren was tasked by Wada with investigating allegations of doping in Russia.

He published the first part of his report - stating Russia operated a state-sponsored doping programme from 2011 - in July.

As a result, Wada recommended all Russian athletes be banned from competing from the Rio 2016 Olympics and Paralympics.

But the IOC chose not to impose a blanket ban, instead leaving decisions on whether Russians could compete to individual sporting federations.

Russia eventually took 271 athletes from an original entry list of 389 competitors to August's Olympic Games in Rio.

However, the IPC chose to ban the nation entirely from the Paralympics in September.

Last week, the IAAF has decided to extend Russia's ban from international competitions.

Putin's Russia (18/06/16)

The international athletics federation (IAAF) has banned Russian athletes from taking part in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil because of suspected drug cheating on an industrial scale, which has to mean that the Russian Government is involved not just individual athletes.

The BBC reports on the refusal of Russian authorities to co-operate with the recent WADA investigation which makes a mockery of attempts to drive the drug cheats out of sport.

Meanwhile President Putin makes a dumb joke about the impossibility of just a few hundred, extremely violent Russian football fans 'beating up' several thousand rival English supporters during the Euro championships.

But the live TV coverage of what happened inside the ground speaks for itself as does the fact that the Russian football federation was the only one to be fined over the thuggish behaviour of its fans. 

Russia doping: New Wada report reveals obstructions to testing
BBC Olympics

Russian athletes have been banned from competing in international competitions since November 2015

Anti-doping officials in Russia are being stopped from testing athletes and are also being threatened by security services, says a new report.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) made its latest claims two days before Russia finds out whether it can send athletes to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

They were banned from international competition after Wada accused Russia of state-sponsored doping.

Athletics chiefs meet on Friday to decide whether to lift the ban.

What does the Wada report say?

It says that:
  • 73 of 455 tests on athletes could not be collected;
  • 736 tests were declined or cancelled;
  • 23 tests were missed, which the report says is a "significant amount";
  • and 52 findings were adverse.
The report details the lengths athletes from different sports allegedly went to, both to avoid tests and fool doping control officers (DCOs).

It says one athlete was seen running away from the mixed zone after an event, while another left the stadium during a race and could not be located.

Wada also highlighted the case of an athlete who, it says, used a container - "presumably containing clean urine" - that had been inserted inside her.

When she tried to use the container, it leaked onto the floor.

The athlete is alleged to have tried to bribe the DCO before providing a sample that subsequently returned an adverse finding.

The report also says that:
  • DCOs have been intimidated when accessing military cities, with armed federal security agents threatening them with expulsion from the country;
  • Wada-accredited laboratories have reported that sample transportation packages have been opened by Russian customs, suggesting interference by officials;
  • And national championships for Olympic sports, including Olympic qualifiers, have been held in cities with restricted access due to ongoing civil conflicts, resulting in service providers declining test requests.
As a result, tests were not carried out at the national weightlifting and national Greco-Roman wrestling championships.

In some cases, testers were not told where an event was taking place.

"What really comes through, when you read through it page by page by page, is the number of occasions when there was simply no co-operation given," former Wada president Dick Pound told the BBC World Service.
Why are Russian athletes banned?

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) voted to suspend Russia's athletics federation on 13 November after an independent Wada report alleged "state-sponsored doping".

The report was commissioned to investigate claims made in a documentary shown by German broadcaster ARD in 2014.

The programme alleged widespread doping in Russian athletics, claiming as many as 99% of athletes had cheated.

The claims were made by whistleblowers, among them Vitaly Stepanov, a former Russian anti-doping official, and his wife Yulia, a former 800m runner who was banned for doping.

Russian athletes, including former London Marathon winner Liliya Shobukhova, also admitted to taking drugs and observing corruption.

The Wada report found evidence of state involvement, as well as evidence that samples had been destroyed, doping controls had been interfered and bribes had been paid to conceal positive tests.

What happens next?

The IAAF meets on Friday in Vienna to discuss what Russian authorities have done to tackle doping and whether its athletes should compete in Rio.

Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko said the country could take legal action if its athletics federation was not reinstated, Interfax news agency has reported.

"It is a big and an important message whatever is decided," said Pound.

"If they are held to be excluded, that's a message. If they are allowed to come back in, there is going to be another message that all of the sporting authorities are going to have to deal with."

Pound said a ban on Russian athletes competing in the Olympics would be extremely difficult for the Russian government to explain to its citizens.

"You can explain all sorts of economic sanctions and political sanctions and what not if you are the state," he said.

"But it is very hard to explain to a country that really enjoys its sport and likes to watch it why it is that nobody will play with you."

Meanwhile, Russian Olympic medallists and world champions have appealed to the head of the International Olympic Committee to let athletes with no history of doping to compete at the Rio Games.

"The fraud of dishonest people should not jeopardise the career of innocent fellow athletes," said 13 sports stars in a letter to Thomas Bach.

The 13 include Alexander Popov, a four-time Olympic champion swimmer, and judo champion Tagir Khaibulaev.

The Olympic athletics programme begins in Brazil on 12 August.

Russian Alexander Popov won four freestyle swimming Olympic golds

Russian Dopes (10/11/15)

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is an independent organisation charged with cleaning up international athletics and has just concluded that the Russian state, not just individual athletes, has been actively involved in cheating and corruption on a massive scale.

Predictably, Russia's response has been to rubbish WADA's investigation and to accuse other countries of engaging in a groundless conspiracy, even though the evidence against Russian athletes and officials is incontrovertible.

The BBC reports on a 'betrayal", a "destruction of public faith" and a"dark day" for athletics" against the background of the WADA logo 'Play True'.  


Doping & corruption report a 'dark day' for athletics

Image result for wada + images

A "betrayal", a "destruction of public faith" and a "dark day" for athletics.

Leading figures have responded to a World Anti-Doping Agency commission report, which has recommended Russia should be banned from competition.

British sports minister Tracey Crouch called the findings an "extraordinarily dark day for athletics".

The report examines claims of doping, cover-ups, and extortion in Russian athletics, which also implicated the IAAF, the sport's world governing body.

The report also states the London 2012 Olympics were "sabotaged" by participation of Russian athletes under suspicion, while Dick Pound - head of the independent commission - described it as "state-sponsored doping".

Athletics' darkest day?

IAAF president Lord Coe described the scale and depth of the report's findings "truly shocking".

After promising to "move quickly" on the independent commission's recommendations, Coe told BBC Sport: "I want to see a sport that is responsible and transparent and accountable and I will do anything it takes to achieve that. But this will not be swift road, this will be tough."

Former British Olympian Roger Black echoed Crouch's reaction, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If you're looking at a governing body as corrupt, and they are protecting the guilty athletes, then that changes everything going forward.

"There's always been an assumption that your governing body is there for you as an athlete, and is there to sort out the cheats.

"It's a very dark day."

Tessa Jowell, former Olympics minister, added: "This is what destroys public faith in the competition they see on their televisions or go to see. There is very clear a problem of culture."

What the athletes say

Paula Radcliffe, marathon world record holder, on Twitter: "Just got off plane to catch up on these damning and serious revelations. Too much to address in tweets: bottom line - truth eventually comes.

"Suspected some of this for years but way worse than imagined. Athletics needs to take strong action and move quickly forward in right direction."

London 2012 long jump champion Greg Rutherford posted a message on Instagram

Louise Hazel, British heptathlete: "I am disappointed but I am not surprised that doping continues to be rife through the world of athletics.

"I have been in situations where I have seen athletes doping right before my eyes.

"Giving athletes a two-year ban and allowing them to come back to compete for gold medals is just not good enough. Full-time bans and you are out of the sport. Simple as that."

Mara Yamauchi, second fastest British female marathon runner of all time: "I'm not very surprised, it helps to explain a lot of the suspicions I've had about particularly Russian athletes who I used to compete against.

"It's easy to direct your anger at the athletes but actually what this story really shows is that the serious wrongdoing is going on further up the chain on the part of agents, coaches, officials, directors of anti-doping and national federations and it's really those people that should be punished."

British 400m hurdler Dai Greene commented on Twitter about Wada's findings
Lynsey Sharp, who represented Britain in the 800m at London 2012, also reacted on Twitter
Former heptathlete and 400m runner Kelly Sotherton represented Britain at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics

Katharine Merry won 400m bronze at the Sydney Olympics in 2000

Official bodies react to Wada findings

Wada president Sir Craig Reedie told BBC Radio 5 live: "I think it's appalling and is probably worse than anyone imagined. Clearly there has been deliberate cheating and also oversight.

"While it is unpleasant that it has become worldwide debate, I think there should be credit given to my agency for having the courage to appoint an independent commission and putting it in the public domain."

International Olympics Committee statement: "This is a deeply shocking report and very saddening for the world of sport.

"The protection of the clean athletes is a top priority for the International Olympic Committee. We support the attempt of the independent commission to bring all the facts to light in the interest of the integrity of the sport and the protection of the clean athletes."

UK Anti-Doping statement: "The Independent Commission's findings highlight that the international playing field has not been level for our clean British athletes competing on the global stage. Today's findings will go some way to levelling that playing field for our athletes, and the whistle-blowers and media should be applauded for bringing these issues to Wada's attention."

Russian Thugs (15/06/16)

On the off chance that any readers are naive enough to believe that Russia is a normal, peaceful democratic country - just read the following Twitter comments from the Deputy Chair of the Russian Parliament, Igor Lebedev.

Now the man's an idiot, of course, but he's a senior and influential political figure who graduated from the Moscow Academy of Law in 1996, would you believe. 

If people at the top of Russian society can behave in this way, is it any wonder that violent, anti-social football hooligans follow their lead.


Igor Lebedev, Deputy Chair of Russian Parliament, praises the hooligans (ht @JoshFeldberg)

Cycling Cheats (13/03/15)

The epic scale of a drugs and doping culture in the world of professional cycling has been laid bare in a report by an Independent Reform Commission the background to which is explained here by the BBC.

But in truth the problems have been obvious for some time and my favourite example is about the cyclist who tried to explain away packs of fresh blood in his travel kitchen by claiming that these were for making black puddings.

Yet the chap is still competes to this day, as far as I know.

Doping culture in cycling 'still exists' according to Circ report

By Matt Slater - BBC Sport

Cycling continues to struggle with widespread doping, according to a landmark report into the sport's troubled recent history.

Set up last January to investigate how cycling so badly lost its way during the 1990s and 2000s, the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (Circ) has heavily criticised the sport's leadership throughout that era.

Its 227-page report, published on Monday, clears the International Cycling Union's (UCI) bosses of outright corruption but censures them for a litany of failings.

Foremost among these are that the UCI did not really want to catch cheats and therefore turned a blind eye to anything but the worst excesses.

The report's authors also accuse former UCI presidents Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid of failing to follow their own anti-doping rules and showing preferential treatment to disgraced former champion Lance Armstrong.

A total of 174 anti-doping experts, officials, riders and other interested parties were interviewed. These are the main points:

  • One "respected cycling professional" believes that 90% of the peloton is still doping, another put it at 20%
  • Riders are micro-dosing, taking small but regular amounts of a banned substance, to fool the latest detection methods
  • The abuse of Therapeutic Use Exemptions, sick notes, is commonplace, with one rider saying 90% of these are used to boost performance
  • The use of weight-loss drugs, experimental medicine and powerful painkillers is widespread, leading to eating disorders, depression and even crashes
  • With doping done now on a more conservative basis, other forms of cheating are on the rise, particularly related to bikes and equipment
  • Doping in amateur cycling is endemic
The €3m (£2.16m) report was compiled by chairman Dr Dick Marty, a former Swiss prosecutor, and two vice-chairs, German anti-doping expert Professor Ulrich Haas and Peter Nicholson, an Australian who has investigated international terrorism and war crimes.

UCI president Brian Cookson, who swept into office in 2013 promising a fresh start for an organisation that had been badly damaged by its close links to Armstrong, thanked the panel for its work and did not try to sugar-coat its findings.

"It is clear that in the past the UCI suffered severely from a lack of good governance with individuals taking crucial decisions alone," said Cookson.

"Many [of these decisions] undermined anti-doping efforts; put the UCI in an extraordinary position of proximity to certain riders; and wasted a lot of its time and resources in open conflict with organisations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) and US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada)."

Cookson added that his predecessors and their close associates regularly interfered in anti-doping cases which "served to erode confidence in the UCI and the sport".
Siege mentality and a fallen hero

The issues that Cookson is referring to are dealt with over 120 pages of forensic detail.

The report explains how a sport that had always taken a lenient approach to doping, and had an entrenched, Mafia-like culture of "omerta" when it came to not talking about doping, entered a new phase when the "game-changing" blood-boosting drug EPO became readily available in the early 1990s.

With no test for it until 2000 and performance benefits of 10-15%, it did not take long before almost everybody in the sport was using it. As the report says, "it would have been hard to overestimate the prevalence of drug use in the peloton" at this time.

BBC sports editor Dan Roan

"The report should be studied by every sport, because while cycling is still clearly in a critical condition, it at least knows it is ill"

Read Dan Roan's full analysis of the Circ report

Numerous interviewees told Circ the UCI's view was it should only try to contain the problem and make sure the riders did not kill themselves, and that actually catching cheats was bad for the sport's reputation.

It was against this backdrop that Verbruggen took control of what had been an insignificant governing body and turned it into a far larger and more ambitious entity.

According to the report, the Dutchman had almost dictatorial powers at the UCI between 1991 and 2005, and continued to exert influence under the reign of his hand-picked successor, Irishman McQuaid.

The pair will be relieved to have been cleared of the most serious allegations against them, namely that they were bribed by Armstrong to cover up positive tests in 2001; and that he paid for what was meant to be an independent report commissioned by the UCI to investigate reports he had tested positive during the 1999 Tour de France.

But Circ did not spare them on a number of glaring errors of judgement and examples of poor governance:
  • World champion Laurent Brochard in 1997 and Armstrong in 1999 were both allowed to backdate medical prescriptions to avoid sanctions, a clear breach of the anti-doping rules
  • McQuaid abruptly and unilaterally changed his mind to allow Armstrong to ride at the 2009 Tour Down Under despite not being available for testing for the required six months beforehand. At the same time it was announced that Armstrong would later that season ride in the Tour of Ireland, an event organised by what is described in the report as "people known to McQuaid"
  • While Armstrong did not pay for the 2006 report into his alleged positive tests at the 1999 Tour, his lawyers did draft large sections of it, along with senior UCI staff desperate to shift blame away from the rider and onto the laboratory that leaked the results and Wada
  • The UCI asked for and accepted two large donations from Armstrong, and enquired about a more regular gift as late as 2008
  • Repeatedly came out to defend Armstrong against accusations of cheating, supporting him in two high-profile legal cases
There is also considerable criticism of the UCI's cost controls, ethics procedures and electoral practices, with Verbruggen and McQuaid accused of breaches of the rules in the 2005 and 2013 elections.

The Lance Armstrong story

Born: Plano, Texas on 18 September 1971

Tour de France victories: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 (22 individual stage wins)

World Championships road race victory: 1993

Cancer survivor: Diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996. The disease spreads through his body. Launches Lance Armstrong Foundation for Cancer. Declared cancer-free in 1997 after brain surgery and chemotherapy

Retirement: Announces he will retire after the 2005 Tour de France, which he wins. Angered by drug allegations against him, Armstrong announces in September 2008 he will return to professional cycling. In June 2010, he reveals via Twitter that the 2010 Tour de France will be his last. On 16 February 2011, Armstrong announces retirement again.

Both men have reacted by welcoming the report's central finding that there is no evidence of corruption or direct collusion in any of the numerous doping scandals that beset the sport on their watch, with Verbruggen telling the BBC: "How can I be annoyed about being cleared of cover-ups and bribes?"

He added that it is "so easy to rewrite history 25 years later".

One man who would dearly love to rewrite history is Armstrong, who told the BBC last month he hoped his two interviews with Circ would lead to the panel recommending a reduction in his lifetime ban from almost all organised sport.

The former icon will be bitterly disappointed, then, that Circ has not exercised its right to ask Usada to reconsider its sanction, despite noting on more than one occasion that his treatment is inconsistent with almost every other member of his team, not to mention the vast majority of riders he competed against.

Armstrong told the BBC he was "grateful" to Circ for letting him help with the report and said he was "deeply sorry for many things I have done". 
The job is never done

While many senior figures within the sport will be feeling very bruised by the report's assessment of what happened during the EPO era, Circ did acknowledge the huge improvements made in the anti-doping effort, particularly after 2006.

It noted a far more aggressive approach to catching cheats, greater investment in anti-doping and the early adoption of the biological passport, the most effective tool in the fight against cheats since the EPO test was introduced in 2000.

Lance Armstrong admits doping to win cycling titles

But the interviewees also made it clear that doping had not been eradicated.

The report listed dozens of substances and cutting-edge doping methods that riders are still believed to use. It also noted that teams do not know where their riders are training at all times, or with whom they are training.

The ready availability and falling costs of doping products is also flagged up as a huge concern, as is the continuing involvement of a number of unethical doctors.

The report concludes with a raft of recommendations to help prevent cycling from ever returning to the dark days of a decade ago, with ideas such as centralised pharmacies at races, a powerful riders' union, a greater push to encourage whistleblowing and more testing done overnight to catch micro-dosers.

Cycling Cheats (10/05/13)

The Spanish authorities have finally caught up with the doctor - Eufemiano Fuentes - behind the outrageous cheating that has been taking place for years in the cynical world of professional cycling.

Fuentes was sentenced to one year in prison by a Spanish Court and also banned from practising as a sports doctor for four years - although any right thinking person will be asking why this crook was not banned for life and locked up for a long time.

Because he's a dishonest criminal fraudster whose willingness to ignore the medical ethics of his profession has helped people win big prize money in top flight cycling events - by cheating others who were playing by the rules.    

The corrupt doctor carried out blood transfusions on some of the world's top cyclists and Fuentes is only now being punished - seven years after police raided his Madrid laboratories and found dozens of bags of refrigerated and frozen blood - marked with code names for his many customers.

Many of the bags belonged to cyclists who had left blood with Fuentes so that they could be re-infused with it during races in order to improve their performance - including the Olympic-medal winner Tyler Hamilton.

The aim of the transfusion was to artificially improve a cyclist's performance by increasing their red blood cell count and - in addition - Fuentes supplied his clients with banned substances, including testosterone, insulin, and hormones.

The Spanish judge said that Fuentes had put the health of the cyclists at great risk - by increasing their chances of suffering from thrombosis, heart attacks, nausea and vomiting - as well as an increased risk of doing damage to their kidneys and brain.

But incredibly the judge refused to release the unused transfusion bags to sporting and other authorities so that the identities of others involved in the scandal could be tracked down and brought to justice.

Justice of a sort that is because Fuentes is unlikely to even set foot in prison - since sentences under two years are normally suspended in Spain.

The BBC reports on a incident in the normally quiet county of Wiltshire involving a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, who appears to be the victim of some kind of mysterious poisoning.

Lots more to follow on this story I'm sure including, no doubt, a statement from President Vladimir Putin denying any involvement of the Russian state.

Putin's denial will follow a long line of similar denials such as:
  • The murder of Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive Polonium in 2006
  • Team Russia's systematic cheating in the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014
  • The shooting down of civilian Flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine in 2014
  • Large-scale, organised Russian interference in America's presidential election in 2016
In addition many of Putin's internal critics have died suddenly and violently including the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, both of whom were gunned down by assassins in Moscow.

Critically ill man is former Russian spy
Media caption - "He was doing strange hand movements, looking up to the sky": 

What we know so far

A man who is critically ill after being exposed to an unknown substance in Wiltshire is a Russian national convicted of spying for Britain, the BBC understands.

Sergei Skripal, 66, was granted refuge in the UK following a "spy swap" between the US and Russia in 2010.

He and a woman, 33, were found unconscious on a bench at a shopping centre in Salisbury on Sunday.

Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury has been closed by police "as a precaution".

The substance has not been identified.

Wiltshire Police are investigating whether a crime has been committed. They said the pair had no visible injuries but had been found unconscious at the Maltings shopping centre.

They have declared a "major incident" and multiple agencies are investigating. They said it had not been declared as a counter-terrorism incident, but they were keeping an "open mind".

They said officers did not believe there was any risk to the wider public.

Col Skripal, who is a retired Russian military intelligence officer, was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006 for spying for Britain.

He was convicted of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to the UK's Secret Intelligence Service, MI6.

Russia said Col Skripal had been paid $100,000 for the information, which he had been supplying from the 1990s.

He was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 US spies in 2010, as part of a swap. Col Skripal was later flown to the UK.

He and the woman, who police said were known to each other, are both in intensive care at Salisbury District Hospital.

Media caption - Witness: "They looked like they'd been taking something quite strong"

A number of locations in the city centre were cordoned off and teams in full protective gear used hoses to decontaminate the street.

The hospital advised people to attend routine operations and outpatient appointments unless they were contacted. It said its A&E department was open but busy because of the weather.

Neighbours at Sergei Skripal's home in Salisbury say police arrived around 17:00 GMT on Sunday and have been there ever since.

They said he was friendly and in recent years had lost his wife.

Media caption - Temp Asst Chief Constable Craig Holden: "We are unable to ascertain whether or not a crime has taken place"

Eyewitness Freya Church told the BBC it looked like the two people had taken "something quite strong".

She said: "On the bench there was a couple, an older guy and a younger girl. She was sort of leant in on him, it looked like she had passed out maybe.

"He was doing some strange hand movements, looking up to the sky...

"They looked so out of it I thought even if I did step in I wasn't sure how I could help." 

Image caption - Public Health England has not confirmed what the substance was

Image caption - The hospital's A&E was closed on Monday while two people were treated

The BBC's security correspondent Gordon Corera said government officials were not commenting about events in Salisbury, but that the possibility of an unexplained substance being involved will draw comparisons with the 2006 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.

Mr Litvinenko was a former intelligence officer who, an inquiry later found, was probably killed on the orders of Vladimir Putin.

Public Health England said its specialists would be joining a "specially convened group" to consider the incident.

What were the charges against Col Skripal?

Col Skripal was convicted of "high treason in the form of espionage" by Moscow's military court in August 2006. He was stripped off all his titles and awards.

He was alleged by the Russian security service FSB to have begun working for the British secret services while serving in the army in the 1990s.

He had been passing information classified as state secrets and been paid for the work by MI6, the FSB claimed.

Col Skripal pleaded guilty at his trial and co-operated with investigators, reports said at the time.