One letter from IAAF to Russian athletics president Valentin Balakhnichev described test results from 2009 as “startling”

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) highlighted fears in 2009 that some Russian athletes were “putting their health and even their own lives in very serious danger” because their blood levels were so high, it is claimed.

Internal documents obtained by The Associated Press reveal concerns over the the scale of doping by some Russian athletes, with athletics’ world governing body having described test results from 2009 – so six years before the country was banned from international competition – as “startling”.

In a letter dated October 14, 2009, from the then IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss to the then president of the All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF) Valentin Balakhnichev, which was published by The Associated Press on Tuesday (January 12), Weiss wrote: “… this matter of the Russian athletes blood levels is now so serious and is not getting any better (in fact possibly getting worse) – that immediate and drastic action is needed.”

Referring to blood parameter levels of some Russian athletes at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin, Weiss wrote: “Again they were extremely high, and much more so than any other country competing.” He went on to mention blood levels of some Russian athletes at the World Half-marathon Championships in Birmingham, describing the results as “startling, because not only are these athletes cheating their fellow competitors but at these levels are putting their health and even their own lives in very serious danger.”

At that stage, as The Associated Press notes, the test results weren’t enough on their own to sanction athletes, but the documents highlight the concerns of the IAAF in trying to get Russia to act.

Last week, Balakhnichev was among three senior officials given life bans from athletics after they were found to have committed various breaches of the IAAF Code of Ethics. Former IAAF anti-doping director Gabriel Dolle was also handed a five-year ban from the sport.

According to The Associated Press, other internal IAAF papers from before the London 2012 Olympics “proposed hiding doping sanctions for less well-known Russian athletes from public view” but the news agency reports that the IAAF says the proposals were never put into practice.

The Associated Press says the IAAF has confirmed that the letters are genuine. According to the news agency, IAAF spokesman Chris Turner described the letters as a “clear, open warning” to Russia.

“In 2011 there was a huge influx of suspicious profiles coming through,” Turner is reported to have said in a statement to The Associated Press. “There was a need to prioritize, and in particular to expedite those cases which involved potential medal winners ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games. No cases were concealed or suppressed, the IAAF simply tackled them in order of importance.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Weiss is reported to have said that the IAAF could not have suspended Russia any earlier than 2015, following the publication of the first part of a WADA Independent Commission report.

“WADA found out more than we could ever find ourselves,” Weiss is quoted as saying. “Suspicion is not enough to suspend people.”

The full report from The Associated Press can be found here.