Athletics’ governing body came under renewed fire yesterday following disclosures that top officials were aware of a potentially serious doping problem among Russian athletes as far back as 2009.

The Associated Press published a copy of a letter from Pierre Weiss, then the general secretary of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), to Valentin Balakhnichev, the former Russian athletics president who was banned from the sport for life last week.

In the letter, dated October 14, 2009, Weiss described the results of blood tests taken at that year’s World Championships in Berlin and the World Half-Marathon Championships in Birmingham, England.

“Unfortunately I do not have good news regarding the blood parameter levels of the Russian athletes in Berlin. Again they were extremely high, and again much more so than any other country competing,” Weiss wrote.

Referring to the blood levels of Russian athletes in the Birmingham races, Weiss said two athletes “recorded some of the highest values ever seen since the IAAF started testing”.

In response to questions about the AP report, the IAAF told Reuters that the letters did not show any evidence of wrong-doing and that it followed correct procedures in all the cases.

It said athletes were investigated and either sanctioned or are involved in a legal process as part of being sanctioned.

Abnormal blood levels are not in themselves enough for an athlete to be punished for an anti-doping offence but are widely held to be an indicator of possible performance-enhancing drug use.

Athletics was plunged into crisis at the end of last year after an initial report by the independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) detailed systematic, state-sponsored doping and related corruption in Russia.

In the wake of the report, Russian athletes were banned indefinitely by the IAAF.

A WADA spokesman yesterday said the suggestions in the AP story, if accurate, were “most concerning”.

“If this is new information that WADA’s independent commission has not already examined, it will need to be investigated,” he said in comments e-mailed to Reuters.

The IAAF responded to the AP report by saying that every suspicious Athlete Biological Passport profile was investigated in full and that nothing was covered-up.