Azerbaijan has become the latest country criticized by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for its lack of effective domestic drugs testing programs. An anti-doping survey, seen by insidethegames, revealed that the Azerbaijan Rowing and Canoe Federation carried out just two tests during the whole of 2015.
When asked by the International Rowing Federation (FISA) why they had carried out so little testing, officials claimed they had been provided with no funds due to the “substantial” costs of organizing last year’s inaugural European Games in Baku.
A meeting is due to be held between WADA and the Azerbaijan National Anti-Doping Organization (AZADA) next week in order to address the issues.
“WADA has significant concerns about the slow pace of the development of effective domestic anti-doping programs in Azerbaijan – a country with high sporting ambitions,” the organisation’s spokesman Ben Nichols told insidethegames.
“Since 2014 WADA has proactively dedicated time and energy to provide enhanced guidance and support to the implementation of anti-doping activities by the Azerbaijan NADO WADA has also facilitated the establishment of a partnership between AZADA and a more developed European NADO.
“We look forward to receiving a detailed update on the development of anti-doping activities in this country at a meeting with AZADA next week.
“At a time when athletes of the world are more than ever seeking assurance that they are competing on a level playing field, it is of crucial importance that Azerbaijan can demonstrate that proper safeguards have been put in place locally to protect the integrity of sport and the rights of clean athletes.”
In the FISA survey completed in February, National Federations were asked how many blood and urine tests had been conducted both during regattas and out-of-competition.
No out-of-competition tests were conducted while just one blood and one urine test was carried out in-competition, with it not clear if these tests relate to both rowing and canoeing, or just the former.
Further details were not provided, but in a belated response this week, the Federation blamed the European Games for the failures.
“Unfortunately, we have not conducted tests,” they admitted in an email, also seen by insidethegames.
“Our country was holding First European Olympic Games, fully at the expense of receiving party and costs were substantial.
“Accordingly, since we have not been provided with funds to carry out the tests, which are quite expensive, we could not do them for our athletes.”
Under the World Anti-Doping Code, National Sports Federations are not considered as Anti-Doping Organisations and are therefore not entitled to conduct testing except under the direct authority of an International Federation or a National Anti-Doping Organisation.
The low numbers of tests is still a concern, however, and is indicative of wider problems.
If these concerns are not addressed during the meeting next week, it appears possible Azerbaijan could be considered for non-compliance at the next WADA Foundation Board meeting, scheduled for after the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on November 20 in Glasgow.
Kenya and Russia currently have non-compliant testing programs.
Mexico and Spain are also non-compliant, but for legal rather than testing reasons.
Azerbaijan, the oil-rich nation which is using sport and hosting major events as a way to boost its global profile, enjoyed its best Olympic performance at London 2012, winning two gold, two silver and six bronze medals.
They finished second on the medals table behind Russia at Baku 2015, with 21 gold, 15 silver and 20 bronze.
A first meeting was held this week of a Parliamentary Committee on Youth and Sports tasked to prepare a new Bill on “combating the use of doping agents and methods in sports”.
Member of Parliament Fuad Muradov admitted that, like all countries, Azerbaijan faces challenges from performance-enhancing drugs, and must improve its legal frameworks to better combat the problem,
The country has faced multiple doping failures, particularly in weightlifting, one of its strongest and most popular sports.
A total of 18 Azeri lifters failed tests for anabolic steroids in 2013, including London 2012 bronze medalist Valentin Hristov, followed by a further six cases in 2015.
This has led to the country being stripped of two quota places for Rio 2016.
Reigning world champion Boyanka Kostova – like Hristov, and most others implicated, a former Bulgarian – was also announced as having provisionally failed a test this month following re-analysis of samples submitted at London 2012.
Multiple cases have also been produced in wrestling, with Beijing 2008 and London 2012 freestyle medalist Mariya Stadnik having served a one-year ban in 2006, the year she switched nationality from Ukraine.
Turhan Gurbanov, 20, was handed a four-year ban in March for refusing a drug test during last year’s European Championships.
Azerbaijan’s Ethiopian-born 3,000 meters steeplechase runner Chaltu Beji was also disqualified from Baku 2015 for taking banned substance osterine.
There have been no failures in rowing, a sport Azerbaijan has never won an Olympic medal in but has enjoyed success in recent years.
Aleksandar Aleksandrov and Boris Yotov won a double sculls silver medal at the 2014 European Championships and have qualified a boat for Rio 2016.
In canoeing, Valentin Demyanenko has won three C1 200 meters world titles since switching nationality from Ukraine and is a medal contender for Rio 2016, as is Beijing 2008 Olympic K1 500m champion Inna Osypenko-Radomska, who also switched from Ukraine in 2014.
“Our athletes fully understand the responsibility of fair competition,” Azerbaijan Rowing and Canoe Federation technical director Leyla Aliyeva told insidethegames.
“They are ready to go through whatever tests necessary, as soon as it is required and when proper funding is provided to the Federations.
“Please be informed that every year they already passed at list one doping test done by WADA at the international competitions and never no one had a positive result.”
insidethegames has also contacted the National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan for a comment.
By Nick Butler
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.