SHANGHAI (Reuters) - World athletics body IAAF said on Friday it would investigate the authenticity of a letter signed by 10 Chinese athletes that says a Chinese Olympic coach ran a systematic doping program up to the mid-1990s.
Signatories to the 21-year-old letter, published for the first time on private news portal Tencent Sports, included women's long-distance runner Wang Junxia, an Olympic champion and world record holder.
The allegations in the document, which Chinese TV channel CCTV and other state media also reported, date back to before the IAAF presidency of Lamine Diack, who took over in 1999.
Reuters could not independently confirm the authenticity of the letter and was unable to reach Wang or the coach the document named, Ma Junren.
The letter, sent in March 1995 to journalist Zhao Yu but never previously publicized, suggests Ma ran a systematic doping program in China some two decades ago.
Reuters was unable to reach Zhao for comment.
The IAAF said its first action would be to verify that the letter was genuine. "In this respect, the IAAF has asked the Chinese Athletics Association to assist it in that process," it said.
An executive at the Chinese Athletics Association declined to comment.
The release of the Chinese letter comes as Diack, the former head of world athletics, is under investigation by French authorities for corruption.
According to a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report, Diack ran a clique that covered up organized doping and blackmailed athletes while senior officials looked the other way.
The WADA report found a "deeply rooted culture of cheating" in Russian athletics, leading to the country's athletes being banned from the sport indefinitely.
Wang, whose 1993 world records for 3,000 and 10,000 meters still stand, was among a team coached by Ma, who for years had been dogged by doping allegations.
"For many years, (Ma) forced us to take large doses of banned drugs, it was true," the letter signed by her and nine others said.
"Our feelings are sorry and complex when exposing his deeds. We are also worried that we would harm our country's fame and reduce the worth of the gold medals we have worked very hard to get."
Ma has consistently denied the drug claims and said his athletes reached such levels through hard work and natural remedies, including turtle's blood.
However, in 2000, Chinese authorities fired Ma from the Olympic team after six of his athletes failed drug tests.
The organization confirmed that any athlete admitting to taking an illegal substance at some time prior to setting a world record would have the mark removed.
Tencent Sports said details of doping had been deleted from a book on Ma that Zhao had published in 1993. However, these details were reinserted in a recent republication.
"We (author and editors) previously believed that the doping part was too sensitive, but now it's a better time as Chinese people's perceptions toward sports have changed substantially," Zhao told the news website.
In 1993 alone, Ma's team broke 66 domestic and world records, CCTV said. They took all three medals in the 5,000 meters and gold and silver in the 10,000 meters at the Stuttgart world championships.
His athletes smashed three world records at the Chinese national championships, with Wang taking 42 seconds off the 10,000 meters mark. She went on to win 5,000m gold and 10,000m silver at the 1996 Olympics.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Additional reporting by Mitch Philips in LONDON and SHANGHAI Newsroom; editing by John Stonestreet)