Court: Alaver arranged blood doping for four skiers over nearly three years ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Mati Alaver (right) at the November 2019 hearing at Harju County Court.
Mati Alaver (right) at the November 2019 hearing at Harju County Court. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Recently released court materials reveal disgraced former national ski coach Mati Alaver was charged with facilitating banned blood doping and the use of illegal growth hormones for four skiers, three Estonians and one Kazakh. Alaver's activities spanned the period from early summer 2016, to February 26 2019 when he was detained by Austrian police following a raid at the world championships there, aimed at foiling illegal blood doping.

The investigation revealed that Alaver met with the so-called "doping doctor", German Mark Schmidt, and his associates, several times in Germany, and also in Finland, Switzerland, Austria, Norway and Otepää (Estonia).

Alaver also advised athletes on obtaining forbidden growth hormones and using these in training and in preparation for, and participation in, competition.

According to the charge sheet, Alaver, 66, repeatedly informed athletes about the use of doping, saying that this was essential for a level playing field in the sport and that all other competitors engaged in the practise.

Blood doping rapidly rises the level of hemoglobin in the blood, which enhances the body's ability to absorb oxygen in strenuous conditions like a cross-country ski race.

The practise generally involved drawing a quantity of blood from the athlete, and storing this at low temperature. Shortly before a competition, this blood is reintroduced into the sportsperson's bloodstream. An additional activity can see the "excess" blood being re-drawn, if post-race official blood tests are to be carried out, and so as to cheat the authorities.

The practice contravenes articles 1 and 2.2 of the World Anti-Doping Code and is a forbidden practise.

ERR's sports portal has published the full charge sheet in Estonian here, which was obtained after a legal battle to obtain court materials, conducted by ERR and by private media group Eesti Meedia. Alaver's hearing at Harju County Court last November was behind closed doors.

Estonia does not have a section of its penal code dealing with blood doping, and the section regarding trust issues as a sports coach was the main litmus test.

A summary of the charge sheet follows:

Alaver stands accused of committing a criminal offense qualifying under § 195, 2 (1) of the Estonian Penal Code, which consisted of, in his role as a ski coach, taking advantage of the influence and trust arising from the coach's authority.

This covered four skiers, Estonians Karel Tammjärv, Andreas Veerpalu and Algo Kärp, along with Kazakh skier Alexei Poltaranin, who was coached jointly by Alaver and former double olympic gold medalist Andrus Veerpalu.

1) Karel Tammjärv (now 31)

  • Alaver incited the skier to use blood doping practices, as defined in the Blood Act.
  • This started in 2016 and led to a meeting between Tammjärv and Schmidt at a hotel at Frankfurt Ariport, during which blood quantities were handed over.
  • Also advised Tammjärv on obtaining growth hormones such as Insulin Growth Factors (IGF), Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and Norditropin, which are generally not illegal substances in themselves, but barred for sports use, from Mark Schmidt – substances were handed over by Schmidt to Tammjärv at a hotel near Schönefeld Ariport in Berlin in October 2016.
  • Later meetings took place through 2017 and 2018 with Tammjärv and Schmidt's associates, Dirk Quitakovskis (originally referred to as "Dirk Q." as hearings in Austria, now wound up, required this anonymity) and Diana Somer ("Diana S."), Sven Meisner ("Sven M.") and Schmidt's father, Ansgard Schmidt, in Germany, Switzerland, Norway and Finland, as well as Otepää, Estonia's winter capital.
  • The last meeting took place at Otepää in January 2019 at a world championship stage, where Sven Meisner handed growth hormone substances to Tammjärv. The Seefeld swoop was the following month.

2) Algo Kärp (35)

  • Incited him to use blood doping from summer 2016; preliminary activities including taking blood from a vein in August.
  • Advised him on obtaining insulin from Mark Schmidt.
  • Meetings with Schmidt and his advisors from then through to 2018, in Germany, Finland and also South Korea, where the winter olympics were held in 2018.

3) Andreas Veerpalu (26)

  • Similarly incited and facilitated blood doping activities in conjunction with Mark Schmidt.
  • Met Schmidt at an unidentified location in January 2018 relating to blood doping, and later than month wih Diana Sommer in Telfs, Austria, for the same purpose.
  • Met Diana Somer in Lillehammer, Norway, in December 2018, for blood doping activities.

4) Alexei Poltoranin (33)

  • Incited the Kazakh national to engage in blood doping.
  • Poltoranin subsequently met Schmidt at a hotel near Munich airport in Autumn 2018 for blood doping purposes.
  • Alaver also advised the Kazakh on the use and procurement of growth hormone IGF.
  • Poltoranin met Schmidt or his associates several times after that, the last two occasions in the days leading up to the Seefeld world championships – on February 17 2019 in an unknown location in Italy, and on February 23 at another unidentified location, three days before the Austrian police swoop took place.

In summary, Mati Alaver committed the repeated use of a medicinal product for doping, i.e. a criminal offense that qualifies under § 195 (2) 1) of the Penal Code.

Andreas Veerpalu, Karel Tammjärv, Algo Kärp, along with Mati Alaver and Andrus Veerpalu, were all banned for four years from competition by the International Ski Federation (FIS). Andrus Veerpalu has two other sons, who also compete.

Other hearings will be ongoing in Germany and Austria, including that of Mark Schmidt, whose trial is ongoing at the time of writing.

Two other skiers detained in the Austrian police Seefeld swoop, Austrians Dominik Baldauf and Max Hauke, were not linked to Alaver in the hearing.

Algo Kärp initially denied wrongdoing, only to go back on that on March 5.

Andreas Veerpalu, the youngest of the skiers and the son of Andrus, has consistently remained out of the limelight and declined to speak to ETV investigative show "Pealtnägija", broadcasting a segment on the scandal from 8.05 p.m. Wednesday night, Estonian time, when they contacted him earlier this week.

Mati Alaver started as a ski coach forty years ago, when he was aged around 26, and presided over one of the most successful skiing eras in Estonian sports history, which included two olympic golds for Andrus Veerpalu, at Salt Lake City (2002) and Turin (2006), as well as two world championship golds. After telling ERR at the beginning of March 2019, soon after the Seefeld swoop, that he had been merely a facilitator for the skiers to obtain Mark Schmidt's contact details, Alaver kept quiet through to the November hearing, where he did not accept guilt.

He was stripped of his state honors in March 2019.

Blood doping was originally used in the military, both with pilots and special forces soldiers, on a belief that it might aid alertness, ability to tolerate high altitude and other performance issues. The first known sports case emerged at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, when Finnish middle-distance runner Kaarlo Maaninka was transfused with two pints of blood ahead of his medal-winning 5km and 10km races (the practise was not yet illegal).

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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