Once again, a dubious institution, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), has ruled in favour of the Russian doping system. Why is that? Why are the rules repeatedly bent in favour of the Russians? Why is Russian influence still so great after all the doping and corruption scandals?
The most important answer is, of course: Vladimir Putin and the oligarchs and Russian corporations in his thrall. You will find dozens, maybe even hundreds of articles on this in this theatre here. Two multi-billionaires, Alisher Usmanov and Vladimir Lissin, run the world Olympic federations in fencing (FIE) and shooting (ISSF). The millionaire Umar Kremlev is president of the World Boxing Federation (now IBA) and a member of the Putin-affiliated, nationalist motorbike rocker club Night Wolves. Russian corporations like Gazprom are also active and influential as the main sponsors of some international sports federations.
(You may know that it is risky just to mention the man of honour Alisher Usmanov. His lawyers are quite aggressive about it. Anyway, many other non-Russian current/former IOC members and IF presidents, always very close to Putin: René Fasel, Jean-Claude Killy, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, Julio Maglione, Gianni Infantino, Lamine Diack and many more, most of them very dubious figures.)
Not to forget Roman Abramovich, who played a co-decisive role in the successful bid for the 2018 World Cup on Putin’s instructions. Of course, as in other nations (Qatar in particular, but also England, the USA and the Netherlands), this bid involved numerous intelligence agencies and some of the best-known spy firms on the planet (Kroll, for example).
So, another answer to the questions about Russia’s special Olympic role is: Compromat.
Compromised, possibly incriminating material. The classic, not only in Russia.
Putin and the IOC – a short intelligence review:
As deputy mayor in Saint Petersburg, Vladimir Putin had his first dealings with the leaders of world Olympic sport. His home city hosted the Goodwill Games in 1994, a kind of mini-Olympics, and Putin was in charge. The Goodwill Games were an enterprise of the American media tycoon Ted Turner and were initially held in Moscow after the 1986 Olympic boycotts – as a sign of rapprochement between the superpowers.
Putin, the former lieutenant colonel of the KGB and later director of the domestic intelligence service FSB, met the then IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch for the first time at the Goodwill Games in St Petersburg. Samaranch had been Spain’s ambassador to Moscow from 1977 and had been blackmailed by the KGB for smuggling antiquities and had been run as an agent – as former KGB employees Yuri Felshtinsky and Vladimir Popov claimed in several books. Much of it is substantiated with witness statements and documents. Samaranch had become IOC president with the help of the KGB and with the help of some influential dubious individuals (Horst Dassler, André Guelfi).
Felshinsky and Popov also outed two long-time Russian IOC members, Vitaly Smirnov and Shamil Tarpishchev, thief of many billions of dollars from the former Russian sports fund, as well as former Russian NOC president Leonid Tyagachev and former FIFA executive member Vyacheslav Koloskov as KGB spies.
For many years there has been speculation about what information and possibly incriminating material on IOC members and other big names in world sport might be stored in the Moscow secret service archives.
The fact is that if anyone had access to all the material, it was Vladimir Putin.
The spying activities span half a century.
When six officers of the Russian military intelligence agency GRU were indicted in the USA in 2020, the spying on Olympic institutions was one of the issues: the hacking attacks on anti-doping institutions such as WADA anyway, but also CAS, the IOC, FIFA and IAAF as well as three dozen other organisations – in addition, there were cyber attacks on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, 2018 in PyeongChang and the servers of the Olympic organisers in Tokyo.
That’s how professional it is today: cyber war. But the spying on the Olympic movement began in the run-up to the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow.
According to the files, I reported that many years ago, the KGB and the East German Stasi cooperated for several years on a central espionage project: the role of the sports goods company Adidas. Until his death in 1986, the then Adidas boss Horst Dassler was the secret ruler of world sport. He had also created the notorious bribery agency ISL, which still existed until 2001 and – proven in court – paid more than 142 million Swiss francs in bribes to top officials in the IOC, FIFA and numerous other world federations. Several individuals from the Adidas environment, such as the notorious bribe payer André Guelfi, who became famous in his role in the global corruption scandal involving the oil company Elf Aquitaine, pulled the strings to Russia for decades – first to the Soviet Union and later to numerous republics of the former giant empire.
The best-known former Adidas employee, Dassler’s right-hand man for a certain time, is a man you may have heard about … called Thomas Bach, who has been IOC president since 2013.
Guelfi was also present when an Olympic bid was initiated in St Petersburg, for the 2004 Games, immediately after the Goodwill Games. Putin was in charge of that bid until he moved to Moscow in 1996 and got his first job in the Kremlin administration. In the wild 1990’s, half the underworld was involved in the Olympic bid, including Tambovskaya, a powerful mafia group whose leaders and minions have shaped Putin’s path ever since. An investigating prosecutor once characterised this bid as a gigantic money laundering operation:
„Money in, money out, and all under the guise of the Olympics.“
Even the IOC president and the then director general François Carrard, who passed away in January 2022, have been involved in Guelfi’s business to a certain extend, the early Olympic bids of St. Petersburg, Sochi and Tashkent, for example: Guelfi piloted Samaranch in his private plane to Central Asia (the flights had to be confirmed by Carrard), Samaranch’s presence opened the doors for Guelfi and prevented annoying customs checks when he brought his money suitcases into the country. Sometimes, according to Guelfi, the respective National Olympic Committees (NOC) were involved in the bribe deals. So everyone got something out of it: The IOC saved on travel expenses, Guelfi did not have to deal with customs and the police, the potentates collected his bribe of hundreds of millions, there was also something in it for the sports lords and sometimes even sports facilities were built.
Putin came back to this period in 2002 during the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. After the referee’s manipulation of the Olympic ice dance competition had been exposed, demonstrably with the involvement of the Russian mafia (Alimsan Tokhtakhunov), two Russian serial winners were exposed as dopers towards the end of the Games: Larissa Lasutina and Olga Danilova. The Russians threatened to withdraw their team. Putin, then in his first term as president, ordered them not to leave. At the same time, he scolded the IOC and hinted for the first time that he might be in possession of incriminating material. He had witnessed certain „behind-the-scenes manoeuvres“ during the St Petersburg Olympic bid.
The head of the IOC Evaluation Commission for this bid for the 2004 Summer Games was then: Thomas Bach.
(But, of course, Thomas Bach could not recall any dirty procedures. This was already the case during his time at Adidas or as a secret lobbyist for the bribery company Siemens – or even as head of the IOC evaluation commission for the 2002 Winter Games, which went to Salt Lake City and caused the biggest (bribery) crisis in IOC history. Mr Bach was always there, but he is innocent, never saw anything, never heard anything and never got involved in any dirty business.)
A year earlier, in July 2001, Vladimir Putin hosted the IOC Session in Moscow. The term of office of Juan Antonio Samaranch had begun in Moscow in 1980 – it also ended in Moscow. At the opening of the session, Putin sat next to Samaranch on golden armchairs in the front row of the Bolshoi theatre. Giselle was performed, Samaranch’s favourite ballet. (And in front of the Bolshoi at the time, I chatted with Jean-Marie Weber, the bribe payer of 142 million Swiss francs. But maybe that’s another story, maybe not).
It was at this IOC session that Beijing was chosen as the 2008 Olympic city. The Belgian Jacques Rogge succeeded Samaranch as IOC chief. Samaranch’s son of the same name, Juan Antonio, became an IOC member. Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr played a decisive role as head of the IOC Coordination Commission for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. He is considered a promising candidate to succeed IOC President Thomas Bach, should the latter actually step down in 2025 in accordance with the statutes.
In July 2007, Putin appeared at the IOC session in Guatemala. He received numerous IOC members in the hours before the decision on the 2014 Winter Games. He spoke at the IOC session. Surprisingly, Samaranch Senior was also flown in to lobby for Sochi. This decision for Putin’s residential city of Sochi is surrounded by as many corruption rumours and circumstantial evidence as the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia, which took place three years later.
Still in Guatemala, an exhausted IOC President Rogge replied in a small circle to the verbal accusation that he had let Putin pull him around by the nose:
„You can’t imagine how great the pressure was. Every word I said could have triggered an international crisis.“
(To be honest, it was I who had told Rogge that Putin had led him through the arena by the nose ring. Strangely enough, Rogge has never forgiven me for that.)
A year later, Russian troops invaded Georgia during the Beijing Summer Games and the Olympic truce always invoked by the IOC. In 2014, Putin prepared the annexation of Crimea during the Sochi Winter Games. One year later, the gigantic doping fraud of Sochi was exposed. To this day, the IOC has not dealt with these irregular Winter Games and the Russian state doping system in the way that would have been necessary for the sake of the cheated clean athletes from all over the world.
The costs for Putin’s Winter Games on the Black Sea amounted to 50 billion dollars – according to research by the then opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and his aide and friend Leonid Martinyuk, about half of that went to oligarchs as a corruption margin: 25 to 30 billion dollars. Several Putin friends from St Petersburg, such as the Rotenberg brothers, were served.
Boris Nemtsov, the man who gave the Sochi Corruption Games the 50 billion price tag, was murdered almost exactly one year to the day after the Winter Games. He died like many other Putin critics. Leonid Martinyuk had to fear for his life and fled to the USA. There, the Stepanova couple, the whistleblowers on the Russian state doping system, as well as the key witness Grigori Rodschenkov also found asylum via adventurous routes.
While Putin and his KGB men like Tarpishchev and Smirnov continue to count among the distinguished members of the Olympic family, the four exiled Russians are outcasts. They know that they will have to fear Putin’s henchmen for a long time to come.
(One more detail for now: Ask yourself why so many election congresses of international sports federations have taken place in Russia, especially in Moscow, in recent years and always ended with the election result favored by the Russians. Complicated question, isn’t it?)
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