By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
SARANSK, Russia (Reuters) – Russian race walking coach Viktor Chegin, who was banned for life for doping in 2016, has won state contracts to provide security at a sports venue where he was formerly head coach, procurement documents and tax records show.
Chegin owns a small security company called “Chest-S”.
Since December 2016 – after his ban came into effect – it has won three state contracts worth a combined 8.5 million roubles ($130,000) to provide security to the training facility in the city of Saransk, state procurement documents and state tax documents for the company show.
Such an arrangement is not prohibited by the global anti-doping authority WADA.
But it shows how Russia, which says it has reformed its practices following a 2015 doping scandal, has continued to back a high-profile coach serving a life ban.
Chegin did not respond to Reuters questions, and Reuters was unable to contact Chest-S, his company. The phone numbers listed in an official company registry did not work. At its legal address in Saransk is a mailbox.
The Kremlin referred questions to the sports ministry, which did not comment on whether it approved of state funds destined for sport being paid to Chegin’s company.
The regional government where the facility is located did not reply to requests for comment. Russia’s suspended athletics federation said Chegin’s activities did not go against his ban.
Yuri Ganus, the head of Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA, told Reuters by phone his agency would look into the findings. Chegin, he said, was one of the coaches “constantly in our focus of attention.”
RUSADA has said previously that this was linked to suspected attempts by Chegin to defy his ban.
In a separate statement to Reuters, Ganus said that Chegin’s business activities at the Saransk facility were “not a violation of anti-doping rules, despite the dubiousness of the situation.”
Russia’s athletics federation, in response to Reuters questions about Chegin, said it did not see any violation because he was not involved in training athletes and his sporting ban does not apply to his business activities.
Dick Pound, who chaired a 2015 report commissioned by WADA that ultimately led to Russia being banned from athletics, said at the time that doping in Russian athletics “could not have happened and continued to happen without the knowledge of and either actual or implied consent of the state authorities.”
After the report was published, the Russian athletics federation announced in 2016 that Chegin was banned for life for doping violations.
The report commissioned by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) found that there was a “systematic doping regime” under Chegin’s influence at the sports venue where his firm provides security.
The racewalkers in Chegin’s charge regularly used blood transfusions, in violation of doping rules, and took banned substances, the report said.
The three state contracts signed in 2016, 2017 and 2019 have allowed Chegin to remain close to the facility, located in Saransk some 600 km east of Moscow. Two sources close to the Saransk training centre said that Chegin regularly visits former colleagues there.
Vera Nacharkina, a former race walker who is the facility’s director, told Reuters “it is possible that Viktor Chegin visits the facility’s territory in order to control the activities of the company he founded.”
She said the facility was not aware of him associating with the athletes training there. Nacharkina added that Chegin’s company won the contracts based on a competitive bid.
According to WADA rules, athletes must not receive training, strategy, nutritional or medical advice from banned coaches and medical staff and can face sanctions if they do.
Reuters was unable to establish if the contracts meant Chegin personally had contact with athletes at the Saransk facility, which was named after him until it was changed to the Sports School for Olympic Reserves in Athletics in the wake of the scandal.
The IAAF, athletics’ global governing body, last year stripped five Russian race walkers of their ability to compete internationally, pending further investigation into Chegin’s presence at a training camp in Kyrgyzstan.
The Russian athletics federation said at the time that Chegin’s “presence has been established, but not his cooperation with the athletes.”
(Additional reporting by Anton Zverev and Christian Lowe; Editing by Mike Collett-White)