Finland's tangled doping web is a seedy 13-year-long skinflick
By Esa Lilja
In a column in the culture pages of Helsingin Sanomat on March 30th, author Riku Korhonen coined the term "believer porn" to describe the ongoing saga in the normally rather sedate Evangelical Lutheran Church, as it publicly squirms and wrestles with the twin subjects of talking about gays in the church and a second set of mass resignations that has been set in motion as a consequence.
"Believer porn shows man at his very dimmest, condemning for the sake of condemnation, without a shred of reason", charged Korhonen.
It is not hard to agree with his viewpoint.
Having read his column, I jumped into a taxi and set off on what was by any standards an exceptional journalistic gig: my destination was the headquarters of the National Bureau of Investigation in Vantaa, and I was to pick up the preliminary police investigation material pertaining to the STT doping case, which anyone who has even glanced at these pages should know a bit about.
I do hope that author Korhonen and his fans will not look too unkindly on this piece of thought-larceny, and will believe me when I state that while standing in line at the police counter, as I prepared to sign for the largest steaming heap of shit in the history of Finnish sport, I got a very strong sensation that here, too, we are in the realm of pornography.
Unlike believer porn, "doping porn" cannot be described as a fresh "fashion discipline" or a new release on the market.
This skinflick is scripted by the Finnish Ski Association, badly acted throughout, and supported by scads of taxpayers' money, and it has been thirteen years in the making.
And it apparently has no end.
The seamy material had to be ordered in advance from the police.
There were two alternatives. either you could have the DVD edition in four large files, for the modest sum of EUR 15.00, or you could go large and get the whole 9,000-page smutty magazine printed on paper for the less modest sum of more than EUR 4,000.
Not a difficult call, really.
There were roughly a dozen of us journalists at the NBI headquarters, and unsurprisingly everyone took the DVD version and sped back to their offices, shut the door, pulled down the blinds, and fired up the PC.
As a bonus in the package, there was a raunchy XXX video file: former head coach Kari-Pekka Kyrö's police interview tapes.
I have now gone through the material at work over two days.
There is no denying it: it is quite astonishingly interesting in a train-wreck sort of fashion.
Punching in names and selected keywords, and with a few clicks of the mouse, the material opens up before one's eyes a tantalising vista of the dark and shadowy backrooms of Finnish sport.
There are pages of images of phials and bottles of Russian pills.
There are dark suggestions of doping going back to the 1980s.
There are arguments, conflicts, lies, and deep-throat revelations.
And there is the legendary "sauna contract" from 2001, scrawled on lined paper!
There is more, much more: vague diary entries from the time of the Nagano Olympics in February 1998, with titillating references to drip bags, and tubes, and intravenous shenanigans.
The biggest of the attached .pdf files is one of those "size does matter" things. It weighs in at a breathtaking 600 megabytes.
Skimming through the pages is quite an arousing experience: Jesus wept! These guys really had no scruples whatsoever!
For the journalists and the sports desks, this 9,000-page smorgåsbord is quite a problem.
How is one supposed to put it into manageable shape for the readers?
What do they remember of the plot so far?
Are they even interested in the characters or the convoluted storyline?
Experienced sports reporters have been following the drama from the very beginning, and their powers of memory would put an elephant to shame.
On the other hand, the average reader, for whom keeping abreast of this mess is not part of his or her job-description, is pretty much out to lunch on the details.
This becomes painfully obvious in questions like:
"Errr.. So, is this part of that 2001 Lahti doping fiasco; the bit about Jari Isometsä and so on?"
Well, actually no, it's not.
Or, yes, it is.
Well, sort of, anyway... but, you see, the screenplay is a bit messy and it wanders all over the place.
One of the toughest questions is quite short and it goes like this:
"Yeah, but... so what?"
Who cares who jabbed a needle into whomsoever's arm and when?
Who cares about cross-country skiing anyway?
Couldn't the police have used their limited time on something more valuable than this?
Then one has to cast the mind back to some pretty basic matters.
The first is that the charges are serious ones.
If the initial STT news item from 1998 actually did stack up, in spite of the successful libel action taken against the news agency, then the actions of those involved have been calculating, devious, and as bold as brass.
In what light does doping porn show people?
As curious voyeurs.
As censorious citizens.
As genuine sports fans who feel royally violated by all the seedy goings-on.
But there is one question that the material does not answer: what is going through the minds of the leading actors in the cast?
How does it feel to have been keel-hauled for the past thirteen years or so?
Without belittling the seriousness of the charges for an instant, we can say that few who face going in front of a court have been put through the public mill in the same way as these gentlemen.
They have already paid a heavy price for their competitive urges and their overweening ambition, whatever happens in the next few months.
And it starts happening in earnest at the end of April.
The publication of the preliminary investigation material was just the trailer, the prelude to the main feature.
The next time the court convenes, the stars of this adult entertainment piece will be in their places: mysterious and interesting, but - rather like porn stars - slightly tragic figures.
For the rest of us, it may well be that things turn out as they tend to do with pornography.
For a while it titillates, but if the makers are not careful, the feelings eventually change to ones of nausea and revulsion.
Note: We have only included the very latest developments in the links below. The long-running story is contained in countless links found therein, dating all the way back to the Appeal Court judgement in the original STT libel case, from 2000.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 2.4.2011
Previously in HS International Edition:
Prosecutor demands suspended prison terms for parties in STT doping case (30.3.2011)
Court will set aside two days to hear Kyrö testimony in STT doping trial (31.3.2011)
ESA LILJA / Helsingin Sanomat