Nordic skiing: Blood doping scandal rocks sport as five athletes arrested

Europe
Max Hauke Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Max Hauke, pictured in Sochi 2014, was filmed blood doping during the Nordic World Ski Championships in Seefeld

The skiing world is embroiled in a “blood doping” scandal – where athletes are said to inject specially altered blood back into themselves.

Footage was leaked showing Austrian cross-country skier Max Hauke allegedly giving himself a blood transfusion.

He was one of five athletes arrested in Seefeld, Austria, which is hosting the Nordic World Ski Championships.

A police officer is also reportedly facing investigation for giving the video of Mr Hauke to the press.

The arrests have sent shockwaves through the skiing world, and have happened right in the middle of one of its biggest global competitions.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is ‘blood doping’?

Blood doping is when an athlete injects oxygenated blood into themselves in an attempt to improve their athletic performance.

According to the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), dopers do it to increase their red blood cell mass, which means the body can transport more oxygen to the muscles. This, in turn, increases an athlete’s stamina.

The three most common substances and methods of blood doping are synthetic oxygen carriers, blood transfusions, and erythropoietin (EPO).

All three are banned by Wada.

EPO is a hormone that is produced naturally in the body, and it stimulates red blood cell production. Misusing it, Wada warns, “can lead to serious health risks” because it thickens the blood, leading to “an increased risk of several deadly diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and cerebral or pulmonary embolism”.

What does the video of Max Hauke show?

Some readers may find this clip difficult to watch.

In the video, Mr Hauke is seen sitting on a sofa with a police officer in the background. He is apparently in the middle of giving himself a blood transfusion.

It was reportedly filmed in the middle of one of the raids by a police officer, who later leaked it to the Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Mr Hauke has yet to publicly respond to the allegations.

Who’s been arrested, and how?

In total nine people were arrested in a series of raids on 16 properties, carried out by 120 officers from both German and Austrian police, in what has now been dubbed “Operation Bloodletting”.

Nine of the raided properties were in Erfurt, Germany, where officers allegedly found a blood doping laboratory.

One Kazakh, two Estonian and two Austrian athletes were detained.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Police raided the Hotel Bergland in Seefeld during the Nordic World Ski Championships

Among those was Mr Hauke, an Olympic skier who represented his country in Sochi in 2014, and fellow Austrian skier Dominik Baldauf.

The two Estonian athletes – Karel Tammjärv and Andreas Veerpalu – were both released on Thursday evening, while Mr Baldauf, Mr Hauke, and Kazakh skier Alexey Poltoranin were freed earlier in the day.

A 40-year-old sports doctor, named only as “Mark S”, has also been arrested. He is believed to be a central figure in the doping ring.

Plus, Austrian broadcaster ORF reported that the police officer who had leaked the video of Mr Hauke was now being investigated as well, and could face disciplinary and criminal proceedings for giving the clip to the press. The unnamed officer was also apparently let go from his post “with immediate effect”.

Has anyone confessed?

In a press conference on Friday, Mr Tammjärv admitted he had started seeing his doping doctor back in 2016.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionHow does blood doping work?

“I made that decision myself that I wanted to get help in the form of blood doping,” Mr Tammjärv said, adding that he had first withdrawn blood that summer, and had completed his first transfusion during the Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland, the following year.

Innsbruck regional prosecutor Hansjorg Mayr said in a statement that Mr Baldauf, Mr Hauke and Mr Poltoranin had also “admitted to using blood doping and gave comprehensive and in-depth information to investigators”.

What about resignations?

Trond Nystad, the Austrian team’s coach, has quit his job – with effect from the end of the championship on Sunday.

He told Norwegian outlet VG he had made the decision after watching the leaked footage of Mr Hauke’s blood doping, which reportedly made him feel so sick that he physically threw up.

He said he now had “no desire to work with the Austrian ski club anymore”.

However, he added that he had had no idea about the doping before this week: “If I had [had suspicions] I’d have reported it. I have zero tolerance for doping.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Trond Nystad, the Austrian team coach, said he threw up after watching the video of Max Hauke blood doping

How has the rest of the skiing world reacted?

Like Mr Nystad, Mr Hauke’s British training partner Andrew Young said he had felt physically sick watching the video.

“I’m getting nauseous, it’s disgusting to look at,” he told NRK.

Other skiers were similarly shocked by the allegations. Andrew Musgrave, a Scottish skier who had hit a personal best in Seefeld on Wednesday, said the news had overshadowed one of his “best ever classic races”.

And GB Snowsport’s chief executive Vicky Gosling said it was “extremely disappointing”, and a sign that “doping remains a serious issue in elite sport”.

“The athletes and staff on the cross country skiing World Cup circuit all know each other very well so today’s news has been both shocking and disappointing,” she said.

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