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The Journalist Who Blew The Whistle On Russia's Alleged State-Run Doping Program


The Rio Olympics are coming to a close tonight. More than 100 Russian athletes were banned from competing this year because of an alleged state-run doping program. Hajo Seppelt is a German TV journalist who helped break that story in a documentary. The two Russian whistleblowers who provided key information on the doping scandal Vitaly Stepanov and his wife, Yuliya, are still living in a secret location in the United States. Hajo Seppelt interviewed them for his film. And Vitaly said their lives are currently in danger. Here's that clip.


VITALY STEPANOV: In our situation, we had to out to a different country because there are thousands of messages on social networks in general and newspaper articles that just tell her, don't come back. You might be killed.

MARTIN: Hajo Seppelt joins us now from Rio. Thank you so much for being with us.

HAJO SEPPELT: Thank you.

MARTIN: I understand that you, yourself, are under police protection. What has happened? What has changed?

SEPPELT: I will not tell you because this is, as you can imagine, a confidential situation. And what I can tell you that I have received insults and threats. And so it was our decision to say that we should have a protection for me during the Olympics. That's what I can say. But please, understand - no more.

MARTIN: Of course.

Can you tell us more about the two whistleblowers who were profiled in your documentary? We mentioned Yuliya Stepanova, who aspires to be an Olympic runner. And her husband Vitaly was actually a former anti-doping official.

SEPPELT: Yes. They came forward with information as whistleblowers. And the reaction from the IOC, you have told us about a state-run system, but now you get a punishment. You get a sanction. You're not allowed to compete at the Olympics. This sends a very worrying message to the whole world because international sports' governing bodies always try to encourage athletes, at least officially, to come forward with information to blow the whistle. And when they do so (laughter), then they're not allowed to compete at the Olympics. That doesn't make any sense from my point of view.

MARTIN: It has been reported that Yuliya's World Anti-Doping Agency online profile has recently been hacked. Are the Stepanovs feeling immediately under threat?

SEPPELT: People like Yuliya and Vitaly, they are not people who you can scare easily. They have done a lot. They have risked so much for sports and for helping to clean up sports. As they have always been aware about risks they could face after revealing this unbelievable system of state-run doping and cover-up in Russia so I would not say that they are scared now. But they are at least cautious. And that is exactly the reason for - they move eight or nine times within one and a half year, so it causes a lot of problems.

MARTIN: They also have a young son. Correct?

SEPPELT: That's what I wanted to say. They have a 2-years-old (ph) son, and that makes it even more complicated, as they have to take the responsibility of the situation. But they do it - and from my perspective - in a very courageous and very impressive way.

MARTIN: So there's no one who's come to aid them and to protect them to give them some kind of cover after they shined a light on this?

SEPPELT: There are some people supporting them in the internet, asking for money for donations for them. I know from a German, for example, who offered them five years free living in his apartment in Germany in order to respect and to say thank you for the enormous contribution. But officially, IOC didn't support them in the way it should have.

MARTIN: How do they pass their time?

SEPPELT: Training. Yuliya wants to train? And Vitaly is - at the time when Yuliya is training, Vitaly has to take care about his little son. They want to stay in the United States, and they need work permits. They need a residence permit? They want to stay in that country, as they fell protected. And maybe - I can imagine that Yuliya's dream is to become an American, a U.S. citizen in order, in the future, to compete for the United States of America in big competitions like the Olympics.

MARTIN: German reporter Hajo Seppelt - his new documentary is called "Doping - Top Secret: Showdown For Russia." He joined us from Rio, where he has been attending the Olympics and reporting from there.

Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your reporting.

SEPPELT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.