Sports journalists: Doping penalties in Estonia far too lenient
Punishments for sports doping activities in Estonia are ridiculously light, sports journalests Peep Pahv of news portal Delfi, and director of ERR's sports portal Maarja Värv, said Wednesday, following the fall from grace of former national ski coach Mati Alaver.
Appearing on ERR discussion show "Otse uudistemajast", the pair also said that Mati Alaver, whose November 2019 court hearing materials were made public this week, revealing that he was at the center of an international doping ring involving skiers under his wing, may still not be as much of a major underworld figure as he seemed to think he was.
They also expressed hope that long term, the episode would not harm Estonian sport.
Peep Pahv, whose bosses at Ekspress Meedia were, together with public broadcaster ERR, behind the legal injunction which got court materials from the Alaver hearing last November made public, said that he thought the ski coach had had a sense of impunity following the 2011 Andrus Veerpalu ski doping case.
Veerpalu's conviction by the sport's governing body, the International Skiing Federation (FIS) in 2011 was subsequently overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2013. Veerpalu had nonetheless retired from the sport in 2011, just before the FIS charges emerged, in fact.
Veerpalu was also named as instrumental in the ski doping scandal which came to light at the end of February 2019 and which was the subject of the county court hearing into Alaver's role. One of the three Estonian skiers for whom Alaver encouraged, and facilitated, ski doping – essentially removing then reintroducing an athlete's blood in order to gain a performance advantage – was Veerpalu's own son, Andreas.
Pahv said that in general both investigation and penalty in Estonia were far too weak, a stance ERR's Maarja Värv, also taking part in the show, agreed with – adding that the Alaver case was seemingly all about setting a case law precedent.
"How else would you explain the extreme leniency and superficial investigation," Pahv concurred, adding that the Health Board (Terviseamet) should also have intervened more seriously.
Alaver was sentenced to one year suspended jail sentence and 18 months' probation. The kingpin of the operation, German "doping doctor", Mark Schmidt, is currently on trial in Munich.
The Health Board did indeed fine the Estonian ski team's doctor €200, but this was for irregularities in issuing prescriptions – the doctor, Tarvo Kiduma, had been giving stamped, blank prescriptions to Alaver for the latter to do what he wanted with. Whether this included illicit activities (the case also covered the illegal use of growth hormones) is unknown.
Maarja Värv also noted that the case is still under investigation in Austria, where things first came to light after a police swoop at the world championships in Seefeld, in that case under the section of the penal code dealing with sports fraud.
Even then, one skier, Algo Kärp, who initially said he was innocent of ski doping activities only to recant, was exempt from testifying, because he had not actually raced in Seefeld when the police action took place.
"If this sports fraud crimes carried the same punishment in Estonia / --- /, they [Alaver, both Veerpalus, Kärp, and the other skier apprehended in the Austrian police sting, Karel Tammjärv] could have received much tougher sentences here. But Estonian laws are absurdly lenient with regard to such things, which is complete nonsense," Pahv said.
Estonian law does not have a section in its penal code pertaining to blood doping in sports.
Both Värv and Pahv, while saying it is possible to overstate Alaver's significance, said that the 66-year-old was the one pulling the most strings, at least in or from Estonia, which again led to a potential sense of inviolability, they thought.
"It looks as though Mati Alaver thought he was omnipotent / --- / that he could do whatever he wanted; because he was the Alpha and Omega of Estonian skiing. Everything went the way he wanted; he was essentially like a god here," Pahv said.
Nonetheless, there had been some surprises in the declassified court files, both journalists said. For Maarja Värv, this was Alaver's willingness to brazenly use pseudonymous email addresses, including one named after Croat football star Luka Modric, when communicating about doping activities.
While another of Alaver's nicknames was "the general", Pahv noted, this need not mean that he was the biggest fish in the pond, certainly not next to Mark Schmidt.
The moniker may have been his own choice, Värv added.
Pahv pointed out that doping activities are everywhere in sport – for instance involving Norwegian skiers – but that things should be ironed out in Estonia first.
Maarja Värv said that despite this, it could easily be the case that an athlete engages in the practise, but does not reach the top of their sport or achieve any advantage, and in the meantime has damaged his or her health, something she questioned the wisdom of.
Both journalists said they hoped that potential young athletes in the future would not be put off by the scandal or suffer in some other way as a result.
"I hope the whole saga does not cast a shadow on the young people of today – that they will not be punished for some old men's sins," Pahv said.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte