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Ski coach Alaver arranged 2017 mystery package drop at Tallinn Airport

Raul Olle
Raul Olle Source: Siim Semiskar/ERR SPORT

A former ski coach and Estonian ski association director has said that, at ski coach Mati Alaver's request, he met a foreign citizen at Tallinn Airport in February 2017, and was handed a package to be forwarded to skier Karel Tammjärv. Alaver is at the center of an international ski doping ring as revealed by recently declassified court materials; Tammjärv was one of three active skiers charged with blood doping activities at the world championships in Austria in 2019.

In an interview with the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) last May, Raul Olle, who was cross-country skiing sports director of the ski association (Suusaliit) 2007–2015 and a former cross-country skier himself, said that of the three Estonian skiers apprehended in an Austrian police swoop at last year's world championships in Seefeld, he had only had dealings with one, Andreas Veerpalu, and then only indirectly.

Olle, 52, also said that his main involvement was in a sports firm, called "Sparta", which none of the members of Team Haanja – the ski team comprising Veerpalu and the other two skiers involved in blood doping, Algo Kärp and Karel Tammjärv – were involved in.

Olle also said that Mati Alaver, 66, had been his own coach for many years, adding the pair had worked together down to 2015.

"I trusted Mati Alaver very much. He has never either advised me to or offered an opportunity to use doping," Olle said. 

"If, however, he had advised me to do so I would have seriously considered the offer. But this is a hypothetical debate; nothing like this has happened in my life."

Olle continued to state that he had no idea if Alaver had advised others to engage in blood doping - essentially removing a portion of an athlete's blood ahead of a competition before reintroducing it shortly before a race, to give a performance enhancement - for their sport.

"I don't know if Mati Alaver has offered or recommended doping to anyone. I've read about it in the media, but I don't know."

From a time no later than the beginning of 2017, three Estonian cross-country skiers, Tammjärv, Kärp and Veerpalu were allegedly clients of German "doping doctor" Mark Schmidt and his associates.

Raul Olle himself had before that been no stranger to the practise either, at least according to the media. In January 2014, daily , Eesti Päevaleht reported documents linked Olle to an earlier doping scandal from 2002, when he allegedly paid 10,500 Estonian Kroons (€671) to a so-called doping doctor, Vitaly Bernatski.

Olle said that he could not recall why he had made the transfer.

Fast forward to February 2017, Olle, as revealed in the November 2019 court hearing on Mati Alaver, told the PPA he had met a foreign citizen at Tallinn Airport, who handed him a package to be delivered to skier Karel Tammjärv – a package which was supposed to be kept at a cold temperature (obviously stored blood would need to be kept at a low temperature – ed.).

Olle said he had done so at Mati Alaver's request.

The following is a transcript of the interview with Olle as recorded at the November hearing. The hearing, during which Alaver declined to plead guilty and in which he was subsequently handed a one-year suspended prison sentence, with an eighteen-month probation period sentence, took place behind closed doors – a practice which has met with criticism – and ERR, together with private media group Eesti Meedia, had to go to court to release the case files, which constitute about 50 percent of the total.

Transcript excerpt (PPA questions in bold)

On February 11 2017, at the request of Mati Alaver, you met one person at Tallinn Airport. Who was this person and what was the purpose of the meeting? Were you given any items at the meeting?

At Mati's request, I met a foreigner whom I didn't know. I had never seen him before, and I didn't learn anything about him later. Mati Alaver asked me to take a package from this foreigner and convey it to Karel Tammjärvi. I met the man at the airport doors. I communicated with him in German. He also told me his name, but I have forgotten it. Our meeting was short, lasting a maximum of one minute. I took the package and we went our separate ways.

What, in your understanding, did the package contain?

I don't know exactly, I didn't look inside the package, but I assumed there was something related to pharmacology in it. This seemed a little strange to me that I would have to meet a specific person for the package, and the package would be handed over like this, but I only had that thought fleetingly.

Why did you agree to take this package?

I wanted to help Mati Alaver. I do not remember whether I was supposed to have complied with similar requests from Mati Alaver a few more times. Most likely this was the only occasion.

Why did you think the package should be kept cold?

I don't remember exactly, but when handing over the package, this foreigner must have said something about handling it that way. I guess he said the pack should be kept cold.

Did Mati Alaver also give you a nickname when communicating with this foreigner?

I do not know. In my estimation, the foreigner had a German first name. I don't know if I had any nickname - at least I didn't use any nickname.

Did Karel Tammjärv know the procedure for waiting for the package?

I think he knew. I sent him the package via a package van.

How big was the package?

It was a box about 15x20 cm. The contents of this box were not clear.

Transcript ends.

* * *

Despite his claimed links with Andreas Veerpalu, Olle said he could not name who the latter's coach was.

"I assume that Anti Saarepuu, because he was Team Haanja's coach and Andreas Veerpalu was Team Haanja's league," Olle had told the PPA.

Team Haanja was set up by skiers, but the extent to which Alaver was involved is not clear.

Olle also said he had been Bernatski (see above) on several occasions since the late 1980s, when he, Bernatski was a ski team doctor. Olle later remembered that he had probably given the money to Bernatski as a loan.

The Bernatski case stated that Olle had had repeated dealings with the doctor, but Olle denied aver obtaining prohibited substances or services from Bernatski.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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