Judge: Doping abuse a matter of strong public interest

Janek Laidvee.
Janek Laidvee. Source: ERR

Top athlete blood doping cases are a matter of great public interest, said Janek Laidvee, a judge from the third-tier Tallinn administrative court, whose decision led to the disclosure of disgraced ski coach Mati Alaver's criminal file to the public.

Laidvee explained on ETV's morning show "Terevisioon" on Thursday morning: "I was able to determine that a closed session would not mean restricting the public access to the file."

The arguments concerning delicate personal data and proceedings hindering disclosure were not considered strong enough outside Estonia, which is what Laidvee leaned on in making his decision. "To me, there were no such obstacles," he said.

ERR and private sector media group Eesti Meedia were able to obtain around 50 percent of the Harju County Court materials from a closed-doors hearing last November, which saw Alaver, formerly the national ski coach, sentenced to a year's suspended sentence and 18 months on probation.

Alaver had, the declassified materials revealed, been at the center of a network of blood doping and growth hormone activities involving skiers under his charge, for several years leading up to an Austrian police swoop at the world championships in Seefeld in February 2019.

He had previously told ERR's Anu Säärits that he had merely passed on the main blood doping equipment and services provider, German doctor Mark Schmidt, to the skiers, passing the buck on to them in the process.

Mark Schmidt is currently on trial in Munich.

Janek Laidvee added that: "The question of athlete doping abuse is of great public interest, which is why covering the file on the basis of sensitive personal data would be incorrect.

"As a rule, court judgements should be public, but in this case, it has been amended," Laidvee noted. The court also released it in full.

"The Constitution says that a court decision is made public, which means the judgement should also be available, except for very compelling reasons."

The argument, which led to the disclosure of Alaver's criminal file, came from the idea that the file would be inaccessible after a judgement. Legislators have left that option open, as of now.

Ski coach Mati Alaver "the general" of an international doping fraternity

Alaver's nickname within the illicit blood doping ring had been "the general", and he also used the pseudonym "Roger Federer" in communications.

Among other things, Alaver arranged a mystery package drop in 2017 at Tallinn Airport. He was charged with facilitating banned blood doping and the use of illegal growth hormones for four skiers, Estonians Karel Tammjärv, Andreas Veerpalu and Algo Kärp, along with Kazakh skier Alexei Poltaranin, coached jointly by Alaver and former double olympic gold medalist Andrus Veerpalu.

Former ski star, two-time olympic gold medalist and two-time world champ Andrus Veerpalu was also involved in the ring, providing blood doping to his son, Andreas, who was caught in a probe in Austria at the world championships in 2019.

Blood doping is somewhat of a misleading term; the practise involves removing a quantity of blood from an athlete ahead of a competition, only to transfuse it back into their system just before a race, with the intention of this giving them a performance boost due to enhanced oxygen-bearing capacity the new blood brings.

The blood must be stored carefully at a low temperature, activities which Alaver, Schmidt and Andrus Veerpalu were all allegedly involved in.

The "extra" blood must often be re-drawn after a competition, to dodge the suspicions of authorities conducting blood tests post-race.

The practise when new - the first known case involved a Finnish middle-distance runner at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the same year Mati Alaver became a ski coach - was not illegal but has been declared as such since then.

Alaver, Schmidt, Veerpalu et al were well aware of its illegal status, hence the efforts taken to avoid detection.

Growth hormones are generally legal, but their use in sports is generally not.

Read more on the Alaver case on ERR News.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste, Andrew Whyte

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