Kjetil Borch on Anti-Doping and Fairness

Kjetil Borch, Olympic silver medallist in the single sculls at the Tokyo Games in July this summer. Photo: Martin Slottmo AP.

1 November 2021

By Kjetil Borch

Earlier today, Kjetil Borch, Norwegian two-time World Champion, European Champion and Olympic silver medallist in the single sculls at the Tokyo Games, took to Instagram to vent his frustration on how the governing body of international rowing, World Rowing (earlier called FISA), is handling doping questions and questions of fairness. Borch writes: “It’s this kind of BS I’m afraid younger rowers and athletes will encounter, without knowing their rights. So I encourage every coach out there to update your athletes on their rights and the procedure for an anti-doping test.”

Let me tell you a story about anti-doping and fairness. Three months have passed. The photo [above] was taken underneath the stadium at the Olympic venue, 40min after our final. Beside the camera man stands a Japanese gentleman with a clipboard smiling, waiting to follow me to the anti-doping test. We only did urine samples, which for me was quite strange, as I expected every Olympic medallist was supposed to be blood-tested as well.

The lack of doping tests since the pandemic outbreak is nothing more than tragic, and statistically this is no good news for the athletes. Rowing had a few pre-Olympic doping cases, which badly affected the Lithuanian M4X in an unfair way, getting their Olympic spot days before the heats started in Tokyo, after the Russian federation decided to withdraw their crew which had positive tests after the Final Olympic qualification in Switzerland. I just want every damn rower and athlete to know that I was in fury, talking to FISA and the executives there, and that I wanted to post a monologue about the whole situation, because it hurt me to see how the rules allowed fairness to be put aside.

The complexity and depth of the situation with the Russian federation is hard to grasp to many of you, me included in the very beginning. In a way, FISA had their hands tied behind their back, not being able to force a change or even publish a statement about it, since it was more or less a case between WADA & IOC, and the level of disclosure and terms of privacy was very high – we have to respect the rights of every part in the process. In the last World Cup in Sabaudia, I won one of the coolest races I’ve ever raced, and I was in ecstasy! I totally forgot the Red Bull can I brought onto the podium – FISA decided to disqualify me, revoke my anti competition-manipulation ambassadorship and fine me €2500 for breaching the commercial rules.

I sent the medal back a few days later. It really broke my rowing-heart because the racing was fair, but FISA punished me by taking what fair play had earned me. During the season I’ve encountered foreign anti-doping chaperons and crew, that literally threatened me, that if I don’t do what they say, the test will come out as positive.

This was at the World Cup in Zagreb, Croatia, after my final. After my cool down round, I was called in for an anti-doping test without proper ID or ID check. I said that it may take a while, because I had to get my boat onto the trailer so our coaches driving the boats back home would make the ferry to Sweden. After every race, I meditate and reflect upon my race and mentality. This is the last part of my cool down procedure. It can take 15 mins, and sometimes 30 mins. I told the anti-doping chaperon that it could take a bit more than 15 minutes, which he replied that the anti-doping executives in the main building said I had to show myself there within 60 minutes. When I opened my eyes after 15 min of meditation, five upset men stood in front of me, and they actually threatened me that if I wasn’t at the office in 7 minutes, that would mean refusing a doping-test, and that it means the same as a positive doping test. I told them that I know my rights, and that I felt it very uncomfortable being threatened by men that’s actually supposed to be the outer-frame of fairness in our sport. I was at the office 55 minutes after I was called in, and I waited 35-40 minutes before I was ready to pee – after being very dehydrated after the race (I drank 2.5 liters of soda and water within those 55 minutes after I was called in). I called the Norwegian Anti-Doping agency, which stated that the Croatian anti-doping personnel had no right in threatening me, and that I had the right to do my meditating as a part of the post-race routine. I ended getting a warning from FISA, and that I had to personally excuse myself for the anti-doping crew who was offended because I waited so long before disposing my urine-sample on a national holiday where they wanted to go home.

It’s this kind of BS I’m afraid younger rowers and athletes will encounter, without knowing their rights. So I encourage every coach out there to update your athletes on their rights and the procedure for an anti-doping test.

This article is published with the permission of Kjetil Borch. Thank you, Kjetil! When this text was published, Kjetil’s post on Instagram had received more than 3,500 likes!

Please, see also article on 2 November on some reactions to Borch’s article above. Go here.

Read World Rowing’s reply, published on 4 November here.

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