Hajo Seppelt (born 1963 in Berlin) is a German journalist and author. He is considered an expert on doping in German and international sports.
In 1981, he passed his school leaving examination (Abitur) at the Beethoven-Oberschule in Berlin’s Lankwitz district. He studied sport, social studies, journalism and French at the Free University of Berlin for several semesters but did not graduate. Since 1985, he has worked as a sports reporter for Germany’s premier public broadcaster ARD. He has also worked for the Berlin public broadcaster Sender Freies Berlin and its 2003 successor Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg. After working for many years as a live commentator for swimming events for the ARD, he was stripped of this duty in the early summer of 2006. Seppelt claims that this was as a reaction to a private email, in which he criticized the ARD’s uncritical reporting on doping, becoming public. Since 2006, he has worked as a freelance journalist for the ARD and has produced a number of reports and documentary films about doping.
Together with the former Canadian swimmer Karin Helmstaedt, Hajo Seppelt made the documentary film “Staatsgeheimnis Kinderdoping” (“State Secret Child Doping”) about the perpetrators and victims of doping in East German swimming. It was broadcast by the ARD. Together with Holger Schück, he published the book “Anklage Kinderdoping: Das Erbe des DDR-Sports”, (“Indictment Doping: The Legacy of East German Sports”) in 1999. It also dealt with the topic of state doping in Communist East Germany.
In 2006, Hajo Seppelt reported extensively about the doping problem in cycling. Among other things, his research led to the identification of the German physician Markus Choina as a member of the doping network organized by Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. In November of that year, he was awarded with the “Leuchtturm” für besondere publizistische Leistungen” (“Lighthouse Prize for Outstanding Journalistic Achievements”) by the “Netzwerk Recherche” journalists’ association for his research, reports and exclusive revelations about the cyclists Jan Ullrich and Floyd Landis, and Eufemiano Fuentes.
In the television report “Mission Sauberer Sport” (“Mission: Cleaner Sport”), Hajo Seppelt and Jo Goll documented the work of German doping controllers. The film highlighted flaws in Germany’s doping control system and caused fierce public discussions, which contributed to structural changes in Germany’s National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA). The report won the Silver Chest Award 2007 at the International Television Film Festival in Plovdiv and the International Sports Movie and TV Award 2007 in Milan. The film was also nominated for the German Television Prize and the Prix Europa.
Hajo Seppelt’s work was not without controversy. In mid-January, the German Skiing Association (DSV) took legal action, and a Hamburg court issued an injunction against him for refusing to make a cease-and-desist declaration demanded by the DSV about suspicions that German cross-country skiers and biathletes had engaged in blood doping in a Vienna laboratory. A superior court in Hamburg overturned that ruling in Hajo Seppelt’s favour, concluding that the DSV had no right to demand the cease-and-desist declaration because it was not affected by the journalist’s reporting. The ruling was based on constitutional guarantees of journalistic freedom in cases of anonymous sources. The judgement also overturned an injunction from October 21, 2008. The suspicions about Hajo Seppelt could not be proved after extensive investigations.
Parallel with the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, ARD broadcast the 45-minute-documentary “Olympia im Reich der Mitte”: Doping in China (“Flying High in the Middle Kingdom: Doping in China”), which Hajo Seppelt produced with Jo Goll. The film reported about doping and doping controls in China, in particular, about proven cases of stem-cell manipulation carried out on top athletes. At the International New York Film Festival, it won a world gold medal for long-form reporting. It was also awarded the main prize at the 2009 Sportfilm Liberec 2007 – World Facts Challenge Festival. Prior to the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin, ARD broadcast the feature “Geheimsache Doping” (“Doping – Top Secret”) by Hajo Seppelt and Robert Kempe about the people who pull the strings in doping in track-and-field.
Prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, ARD broadcast the 30-minute feature “Geheimsache Doping – Eiskalter Betrug” (“Doping – Top Secret: Cheating on Ice”). In it, Hajo Seppelt, Robert Kempe and Jochen Leufgens took a look behind the scenes at winter sports.
In the wake of research by Hajo Seppelt in September 2010 about the world’s top cyclist Alberto Contador, the Union Cycliste Internationale UCI was forced to admit that the Spanish Tour de France winner had registered positive in doping tests. It emerged that the UCI had wanted to keep a positive test by Contador for the substance Clenbuterol at the Tour de France in July 2010 under wraps. In February 2012, Contador was retroactively banned for two years, from August 2010 to August 2012, by the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) for Clenbuterol use.
In May 2011, Hajo Seppelt and co-filmmaker Robert Kempe had the chance to film footage about sports for a week in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. The result was the documentary film “Sport in Nordkorea – Einblicke in eine unbekannte Welt” (“Sports in North Korea – A Look into an Unknown World”), which was broadcast by the ARD in July 2011.
In January 2012, Hajo Seppelt and colleagues from the Western German public broadcaster WDR had reports featured on ARD and WDR sports programs about the blood of thirty athletes being exposed to ultra-violet radiation by a sports doctor in the Eastern German city of Erfurt. Several of the athletes concerned were named. In the wake of the broadcasts, a discussion arose as to whether such procedures were banned according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code. WADA itself considered them to be. Anti-doping investigations of the athletes ended up with discontinuations and acquittals due to extenuating circumstances, and a criminal investigation of the doctor concerned was also discontinued. Nonetheless, many experts declared that blood treatments were banned in principle by the laws governing sports. The doctor tried to get a superior court in Cologne to issue an injunction against the WDR, but the broadcaster won out, and the report was allowed to contain references to “forbidden blood treatments.”
In the spring and summer of 2012, Hajo Seppelt and Robert Kempe reported for the first time about doping among Kenyan track-and-field athletes. The focus was primarily on practices among doctors in the background. One athlete told of widespread doping among Kenyan long-distance runners. The reports caused intense reactions in Kenya and met with considerable international resonance. As a result, doping controls were stepped up in the country.
In 2013, Hajo Seppelt and Robert Kempe completed a critical documentary about Thomas Bach, shortly before he was elected President of the International Olympic Committee.
In 2014, with the help of athletes who told their stories in front of the camera, Hajo Seppelt reported about widespread doping in Russia. In December of that year, ARD broadcast Hajo Seppelt’s film “Geheimsache Doping: Wie Russland seine Sieger macht” (“Doping – Top Secret: How Russia makes its winners”). In this 60-minute documentary, whistleblowers testified to systematic doping in athletics and other sports in Russia. The film presents evidence for these allegations in the form of footage and audio recordings secretly made by the whistleblowers as well as official documents. The documentary, which was followed a short time later by films in ARD and WDR, attracted substantial global media resonance and was broadcast worldwide in a number of languages. After its broadcast in Germany, several figures in international sports organizations and anti-doping institutions either resigned their posts or were suspended.
Last winter, Hajo Seppelt caused a stir with a documentary presenting indications of systematic doping within the Russian Athletics Federation. On Saturday, August 1, he was back at it with an almost one-hour-long report that asked serious question of athletics in general and Kenya’s long-distance runners in particular.
Doping – Top Secret: The Shadowy World of Athletics. The documentary shows that it is relatively easy to obtain banned performance-enhancing drugs in Kenya and traces the story of an impoverished young runner who seems to have died from the side effects of taking EPO.
Kenyan athletics authorities refused to speak with Seppelt about the issue, and his film presents circumstantial evidence of corruption among Kenyan sports officials. Former Boston Marathon winner Rito Jeptoo asserts that Kenyan athletes are not subjected to blood tests while training. Another Kenyan runner claims that the national federation suppresses positive doping results in return for bribes.
Hajo Seppelt also suggests that the International Association of Athletics Federations is not doing enough to address the problem of doping in endurance disciplines. After evaluating data on athletes’ blood collected at major athletics competitions over a number of years, two Australian scientists conclude that doping is the only plausible explanation for some of the measurements. The IAAF also refused to speak with Hajo Seppelt about his suspicions.
In March 2016, in its Sport Inside program, the WDR broadcast the third part of the series on doping in athletics with a focus on Russia: “Geheimsache Doping: Russlands Täuschungsmanöver” (“Doping – Top Secret: Russia’s Red Herrings”). In it, Hajo Seppelt, together with co-author Florian Riesewieck, showed how Russian coaches and officials avoided conditions of the World Athletics Federation IAAF and the World Anti-Doping Agency WADA. The 30-minute documentary once again received an extensive international echo and was broadcast in several countries.
In June 2016 part four of the documentary series titled „Doping –Top Secret: Showdown for Russia“ was broadcast in ARD. In this documentary Hajo Seppelt, Florian Riesewieck, Felix Becker and Olga Sviridenko showed that even in the light of the ongoing IAAF investigation russian officials and coaches still did not fulfil the criteria for the reinstatement of the Russian Athletics Federation (RUSAF). A few days after the documentary was broadcast the IAAF extended the suspension of the Russian Athletics Federation. Almost all of their athletes were therefore not allowed to participate in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro 2016. Shortly afterwards the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) excluded all russian athletes from the Paralympic Games 2016 in Rio.
In November 2016 the documentary “Doping – Top secret: The protection racket” (by Hajo Seppelt, Florian Riesewieck, Olga Sviridenko and Felix Becker) is aired in ARD’s weekly programme “Sportschau”. It is based on a joint investigation by the french newspaper “Le Monde” and the ARD doping editorial team. The documentary is about criminal activities linked to doping and cover up in international athletics.
In January 2017 Germany’s ARD television aired another part of its “Doping: Top Secret” series. The new episode focussed on Russian whistleblower Andrey Dmitriev. Frustrated with the persistence of doping in his home country’s athletics community, the runner made secret video recordings. The footage enabled him to prove that a big-name coach suspended due to doping links is still working with athletes.