3 November 2020

In September, court files unveiled that former national ski coach Mati Alaver was the leader of a wide-scale international doping fraternity, providing blood doping to Estonian skiers, including son of former world champion Andrus Veerpalu.

The prosecutor's office in Estonia sent the Alaver case to the courts last October, and in November, Harju County Court handed him a one-year suspended prison sentence, with an eighteen-month probation period. In addition, the Estonian Ski Association banned all athletes from working with the disgraced coach.

On Monday, the Finnish Ski Association notified their Estonian counterpart that Alaver was included in the preparatory process for an International Ski Federation (FIS) competition, organizing a camp for Estonian skiiers, prompting the Estonian Ski Association to send out a press release, condemning cooperation with Alaver.

"The Estonian Ski Association directs the attention of coaches, athletes, supporters and parents to the fact that any kind of cooperation with the criminally prosecuted Mati Alaver is forbidden because it could officially ruin the athletes' careers," the association wrote.

The association added that Alaver was helping Estonian ski team AR Pro Team, led by former cross-country skier Aivar Rehemaa, prepare for an upcoming competition in Ruka, Finland, by organizing a three-week camp, scheduled to start on Wednesday.

Rehemaa told ERR: "The association did not send that press release to me, I received through one of our athletes. The fact is that what is written in the first paragraph - that Mati Alaver is helping organize the camp - is completely incorrect. Mati Alaver has not acquired a permit from the Finnish Ski Association."

Rehemaa continued: "The fact also is that because I knew acquiring the invitation would take a long time, I explored a possibility myself of being able to speed up the process. An official Finnish Ski Association invitation was in my mailbox two days later. But I did ask Mati Alaver if he could talk to his friend Ismo Hämäläinen (former Finnish Ski Association director - ed.) to help speed up the process."

The athletes involved in the aforementioned camp are Marko Kilp, Karl Sebastjan Dremljuga, Johanna Udras, Steve Vahi, Kaarel Kasper Kõrge, Martin Himma and Margaret Peterson.

Rehemaa said: "My conscience is clear and I can speak for the athletes that theirs is as well. I have no contact with Mati Alaver. Many are certainly trying to find a connection that perhaps there is financing involved or something but I can confirm that all finances I have found for the club - there is no cooperation with Mati Alaver."

The 38-year old former national teamer Rehemaa is assisting the athletes in preparing for the coming season, along with helping the association with organizational issues and finding sponsors.

Rehemaa said: "I have seen how this was all done earlier. Of course we cannot ensure that level today but I am trying to help a small group and we will see how that works out. We have to start somewhere."

Ski coach Mati Alaver "the general" of an international doping fraternity

Alaver's nickname within the illicit blood doping ring had been "the general", and he also used the pseudonym "Roger Federer" in communications.

Among other things,Alaverarranged a mystery package dropin 2017at Tallinn Airport. He wascharged with facilitating banned blood dopingand the use of illegal growth hormones for four skiers, Estonians Karel Tammjärv, Andreas Veerpalu and Algo Kärp, along with Kazakh skier Alexei Poltaranin, coached jointly by Alaver and former double olympic gold medalist Andrus Veerpalu.

Former ski star, two-time olympic gold medalist and two-time world champ Andrus Veerpalu was also involved in the ring, providing blood doping to his son, Andreas, who wascaught in a probein Austriaat the world championships in 2019.

Blood doping is somewhat of a misleading term; the practise involves removing a quantity of blood from an athlete ahead of a competition, only to transfuse it back into their system just before a race, with the intention of this giving them a performance boost due to enhanced oxygen-bearing capacity the new blood brings.

The blood must be stored carefully at a low temperature, activities which Alaver, Schmidt and Andrus Veerpalu were all allegedly involved in.

The "extra" blood must often be re-drawn after a competition, to dodge the suspicions of authorities conducting blood tests post-race.

The practise when new - the first known case involved a Finnish middle-distance runner at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the same year Mati Alaver became a ski coach - was not illegal but has been declared as such since then.

Alaver, Schmidt, Veerpalu et al were well aware of its illegal status, hence the efforts taken to avoid detection.

Growth hormones are generally legal, but their use in sports is generally not.

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