Many questions have been raised about Yuliya Stepanova and about whistleblowing. This FAQ tries to answer some of these questions by sorting and presenting some facts.
What is whistleblowing?
Let’s take a look at the wikipedia. They refer to a definition of Wim Vandekerckhove:
“A whistleblower is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whistleblower, 02.10.2016 13:05]
That shows that whistleblowers generally play a important role in society. Most of them are insiders and very often they have been part of the illegal activity. Actually that is the reason why they have these sensitive information in first place. So a whistleblower might not be totally innocent, but he decided to use his information for a better world instead of continuing on the wrong way of injustice.
Isn’t a whistleblower just a traitor?
Nobody likes traitors, people who just rat on someone, denunciating others. But there is a difference.
As mentioned in the definition above, we have illegal or unethical actions and these actions are within an organization. The classical denunciation targets single or small group of persons committing minor defences. Furthermore denunciation is often used in combination with a totalitarian regime performing illegal and unethical actions themself.
So we have an organization performing relevant, major illegal actions and we have a person who carries information about that and wants to change the situation. In a non-corrupt system and healthy organization the whistleblower would have the chance to report to the supervisor using the regular escalation processes. But as the organization itself is doing and protecting the illegal action you cannot be sure which function within the organization is part of the system and which is not. Worst case, there is not even one trustworthy person with enough influence to change something. So the only way for the whistleblower is to make this information available to public.
The whistleblower’s interest, unlike the traitor’s, is not primarily his personal advantage. He wants to change the system whereas the traitor would support any system as long as it serves his own personal needs. The whistleblower on the other side often risks his personal career, safety and reputation by revealing the information. Many whistleblower’s situation became much more uncomfortable than it was before and therefore we should pay a maximum of respect to these people and to what they did for society.
Is Yuliya Stepanova a whistleblower or a traitor?
Let’s check this question according to the definitions above.
We have Yuliya as an active part of the Russian doping system. Hence she carries information only available to insiders.
These information proved the corruption and systematic doping in Russian sports including all relevant organizations like the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) and high political officials. That shows that Yuliya had no chance to report these information inside the organization because it was not obvious who was trustworthy and who was not.
Yuliya’s situation is now obviously far worse than it was before blowing the whistle. She and her family live in a hidden place always concerned about their security and without the chance to work, depending on donations.
So we have illegal actions of an organization, information known by an insider, no possibility to use internal processes to change it and a personal situation which is not better but worse than before. These leads me to the conclusion that we have a very clear whistleblowing situation and not an act of betrayal.