Doping Committee Chairman: Society Needs to Wake Up
A member of the "Bernatski commission," which was set up to investigate a Tartu doctor's claims that he supplied many top athletes with substances banned in competition, says society needs to stop denying the problem.
Märt Rask, an attorney and former Supreme Court chief justice who led the committee, said that the statements made should have been a wake-up call.
"[Vitali Bernatski's claims in an Eesti Päevaleht article] were quite shocking to the public. I imagine the athletic community and the Olympic Committee couldn't just ignore them."
Vitali Bernatski told the Eesti Päevaleht daily that he supplied well-known athletes with the banned substance EPO between 1995 to 2007.
The commission issued its report last week. It was largely inconclusive, and Postimees daily said it "passed the ball" to the Estonian Olympic Committee to take further action.
Describing how the commission has gone about its work, Rask said they chose their own methods and goals.
"In general, we wanted to determine what had happened. Top athletes and coaches are an aspect of our work. The other aspect is what will happen next," Rask said. "We aren't a judicial body that has to announce the objective truth based on evidence. We put down what we had."
The end result, said Rask, is that the proverbial athlete came out of the pantry with his hand still caught in the cookie jar and denies having been in the pantry.
"It's too bad. The Estonian people equate Olympic gold medalists with heroes: very respected people, great role models for youth. If these people think they don't have to explain themselves to the committee or the public, defend their honor and dignity after Bernatski slandered them, then it's complicated."
Rask said Estonia had fewer controls in place on the import, checks and illegal trade in medicinal products that contained doping substances.
And, he said, society needed more discussion about doping.
In correspondence with governmental departments from the Police Board to the Agency of Medicines, Rask said, all of the parties said there was no problem as doping cases had not been discovered.
"The responses indicate that if [top officials] can't fathom the magnitude of the problem, then nothing will change. Actually, 15 years ago, it was believed that we don't have any drug abuse, until [police commissioner] Koit Pikaro mowed down a [farmer's] poppy field and people started realizing what it was. Today we talk about drug abuse publicly but not about the aspect of public health, or use of doping in amateur sport."