Sports biologist: Estonian sports would be helped if sponsors sued Alaver

Kristjan Port on ETV's
Kristjan Port on ETV's "Terevisioon" on Monday, February 1. Source: ERR

Sports biologist and board member of the Estonian Anti-Doping Agency (EADA) Kristjan Port said on ETV's morning show "Terevisioon" on Monday that instead of blaming "Pealtnägija" presenter Mihkel Kärmas, major sports sponsor Toomas Annus should instead sue Mati Alaver and Karel Tammjärv for fraud and misuse of sponsorship money.

In many workplaces today (Monday - ed), people are discussing team Annus versus team Kärmas. Which side are you leaning toward?

I am a confused sports fan. What we saw last week was that if a person gets offended, they react very quickly and they search for justifications for their offense later.

But what is there to do? We have a recidivist criminal group who damaged Estonian sports. And there were people in this group who had been involved in international doping scandals and they were sponsored.

And if the sponsor spends a certain amount of money, but the damage is greater to Estonian sports, then the public is justified to ask what he was thinking of. If Mihkel Kärmas ("Pealtnägija" reporter - ed) asks the question, then the sponsor finds that the journalist carries more blame than Mati Alaver (disgraced national ski coach leading illegal doping activities - ed). He is punishing journalists with more weight than Mati Alaver.

If I point to the Lance Armstrong case, then sponsors took on a volume of cases against Armstrong to compensate for damages to their name, but also to retrieve the money. But in this case, Annus has not taken a single step against Alaver, but he did so against Kärmas.

Perhaps we have not heard the question - give me my money back, I have been cheated?

Yes. And I will bring one more example. It is a typical defense strategy that Armstrong used as well. He told sponsors that they knew what he was doing. How are you now coming to get the money back?

We often saw Lance Armstrong with a gold medal around his neck. There has not been talk of gold medals in Estonian skiing for years now.

Yes, there has not been. It is a dirty group that is covered with suspicions. And everything is still considered fine. We are in this scandal today because of repeatedly delaying it.

But we must admit however that it does not say anywhere that the same major sponsor knew about it, nor did he have any facts of doping happening or his money going directly toward blood doping or growth hormones.

We cannot presume that he has distributed this money in a criminal matter. But we are certainly interested that since the damage to Estonian sports was greater than the money sum, then how interested is he in damages... He does not have to compensate them, nor clear up the matter. But instead he is punishing Estonian sports even further. And this raises the question of why does he act this way?

Toomas Annus has supported Estonian sports extremely pleasantly and him punishing Estonian sports makes the situation all the more tragic.

Where will this story end up going in your vision and what is the next step? Will we hear even more revelations at one point, opening this story even more?

As we saw, they initially said: "Oh, I only forwarded a phone number and we made a small mistake. Then it became clear that they participated in international organized crime in a much deeper and regular manner. And some of the court cases have not reached their end yet. More information will come to light just based on that alone.

In addition, there is a group of people who are out of the spotlight. When will they talk, stumble on something - it holds Estonian sports hostage. And if we do not clear it up...

We did not clear it up during [Andrus] Veerpalu's case, did not clear it up after the Bernatski case. We found out that all people have a right to look away. Then we see that we ourselves fed Team Haanja's criminal aggravation of damages with our unwillingness.

To clarify, who are those out of the spotlight? Who are you referring to?

A group of people who are not stupid and know what is happening. The manipulations have been quite complicated. And if we look at Veerpalu's first period and the Bernatski case, then there are suspicions about the healthcare system, scientists, etc. There are people in that group that are likely guilty.

Do you mean the people who we see in the position of courier in some stories?

Ott Tänak (in a social media post - ed) brought out badmouthing ("throwing mud") in a negative manner, but he knows well as a rally driver that if the streets are not clean, mud flies everywhere. And in this case I believe that there are also unaware parties, who have participated or have been involved in this system. And they are also suffering.

I am not judging, giving pros and cons, but unguilty people will also certainly get hurt. Until we do not want to clean this up and keep saying: "Eh, let's just move on, we have a bright future ahead of us." No we do not. This dirt will follow us and turn into a larger cloud.

The situation is currently grinding in Central European courts - when can we expect more?

There will be an accusation, in connection with that accusation it will be said why the accusation is how it is. And this will reach Estonia and we will either have to look at the crooks or look the other way. Move on and forget about it. But then we will face this dilemma again. At one point, someone will have enough or will get offended and this wheel will spin again.

Would this situation be solved if central figures Alaver and Veerpalu, could even say the Veerpalus, would come out and speak on what actually happened?

It would be reasonable for the cleanliness of Estonian sports and their own interests as well. They are not clean, they can only rehabilitate themselves with boldness as they have taken on this crime and got caught.

But a second and an even more cleansing step would be a court case, where sponsors sue Mati Alaver and probably Karel Tammjärv, who both misused their money and cheated them. This course would clear circumstances that would clear this tunnel.

That they would call back all of the support that was used to commit fraud and deception?

Called back and information would likely come up of what we should do next.

What would you say to those Estonian sponsors who have begun to think like Toomas Annus - to not support Estonian sports, not to get involved in journalistic badmouthing or end up in the center of attention in other ways?

Everyone should know that if they are a sponsor, they carry responsibility by giving money. That responsibility is to care what happens to the money.

Sponsorship is a part of sports, if we want to benefit from it. It is not a transaction, where they take people hostage, that if I do not like your talk, I will have payback on you and others. Like Estonian culture. It is not sponsorship. In that sense, we should think on what they want to do.

Mati Alaver (right) at his Harju County Court hearing, late last year. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

What happened?

ETV's investigative show "Pealtnägija" unveiled on Tuesday evening that additional portions of court materials show that one of the Estonian skiers who cooperated with disgraced former national ski coach Mati Alaver, Karel Tammjärv, along with major sponsor Toomas Annus, were more involved in the doping scandal than had been previously known to the public.

After the show was aired, Annus announced he would withdraw all sports sponsorship activity, saying the investigation misleadingly linked him to a major ski doping case. Annus had already halted skiing sponsorship activity in 2019 after a major doping scandal came to light, but extended this to all sports following the "Pealtnägija" episode.

Kärmas responded by denying that the investigative show said that Annus himself was involved, but rather that his sponsorship money was used in the doping activities. The case file "Pealtnägija" relied on for the investigation said that money Annus had provided had directly been used to fund illicit blood doping services and the purchase of banned substances ahead of competitions; the controversy hinges on whether Annus was aware the money had been used in this way. 

Another "Pealtnägija"/ERR journalist, Taavi Eilat, also contacted Annus about the situation, with the latter remaining defiant, and saying he would have no other dealings with the show for as long as Mihkel Kärmas was working there.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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