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Yuliya Stepanova, Russia's 800-metres champion in 2011, performed among the world's top-flight athletes for five years, while her husband Vitaly was an adviser to the director of the Russian anti-doping agency, RUSADA.

In 2014, the couple decided to go public on the systematic doping of Russian athletes, causing one of the world's biggest sporting scandals - and putting into question Russia's participation in international competition.

Doping should be treated the same as any other crime because it robs other athletes of their victories and their money.

Nicola Spirig,  Swiss triathlete

"Many champions are not gods, they are not even real champions," says Yuliya. "That's what disgusted me, the lies. These people are admired, but they're just liars and cheats."

Reacting to Yuliya and Vitaly's revelations, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) suspended 4,000 Russian athletes, forcing President Vladimir Putin to reassure the world that he was taking the matter seriously.

Russia, however, does not have the monopoly when it comes to doping.

Every year 3,000 athletes worldwide test positive for banned substances.

Along with track-and-field athletics, body-building, baseball, American football, weightlifting, boxing, wrestling, cycling, ice hockey, rugby, swimming and basketball all have a track record of using performance-enhancing drugs in recent years.

"Doping can make a difference even in technical sports. It's true that no drug can make a poor tennis player into a good one. But between two excellent tennis players the one who is less tired is more likely to win a tense final set," explains Gilles Goetghebuer, editor-in-chief of the French magazine Sport and Vie.

Legally, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) defines doping as "any method or substance that enhances performance, that damages health or is contrary to the values of the sport," according to Eduardo De Rose, a WADA executive committee member.

However, WADA has no operational role.

In theory, every country needs a national anti-doping agency that's able to independently organise the testing of its athletes. However, in many countries, interference by government and by national sporting federations means that agencies don't always carry out anti-doping tests.

The 2015 Beijing World Athletics Championships, for example, was organised by the IAAF. It sells TV rights to broadcasters at the same time as being responsible for enforcing anti-doping regulations - a system which makes the IAAF both judge and jury.

So in 2012, there were no urine tests in Jamaica during the six months preceding the London Olympics at which Usain Bolt won three gold medals.

In 1998, FIFA had all the samples destroyed after the World Cup, avoiding any subsequent investigation of alleged drug offences.

In 2006, no blood samples were taken in Germany during the FIFA World Cup. In the 2014 World Cup in Brazil , the laboratory that tested the samples was in Lausanne, Switzerland, more than 12 hours from Rio. After 12 hours, tiny doses of EPO or testosterone are no longer detectable in urine samples.

So is football as clean as it claims?  

Retired Brazilian player Rai Souza, a world champion in 1994, is skeptical.

"The investigations carried out are not proportionate to the issues raised. This doesn't help to establish whether or not soccer really does have fewer doping cases or whether it's just a lack of testing. I certainly think we need better, more frequent and more accurate testing," Souza says.

Who benefits from doped athletes? Some say the sponsors, sports federations and even governments are to blame.

"States are complicit because they also play a role in the performance cult. By winning medals and hosting big events Vladimir Putin has a very coherent promotional strategy for his regime and his power," says sports economist Jean-Francois Bourg.

"This is a fundamental factor in the state's strategy to show off their excellence on a global scale. States and sport authorities take advantage of the situation by winning medals but officially they speak out against doping."

Source: Al Jazeera