Tuesday 17 September 2019

'Are they taking Rio away from us?' -Russian media hits out at 'offensive' doping allegations

Russian media have reacted with increduilty to the doping allegations against their country and leading athletes including Mariya Savinova
Russian media have reacted with increduilty to the doping allegations against their country and leading athletes including Mariya Savinova

The doping scandal engulfing athletics dominated sports coverage across the planet today - with one notable exception.

In Russia, the slew of allegations hailing from the World Anti-Doping Agency commission, which accused Russia of operating a state-sponsored doping programme in track and field, the story only made the front page in two business papers and those publications devoted to sport.

And in the latter, the tone was more outrage and anger than shame.

"Are they taking Rio away from us?!" read the headline on the front page of Sport Express (above), referring to calls to ban Russia's track and field team from next year's Olympics. Another sports tabloid, Sovetsky Sport, questioned whether the country's biggest athletics stars - including London 2012 800m champion Mariya Savinova - could really be guilty of doping on their front page.


The reaction among Russian officials to Monday's track and field revelations was disjointed, with sentiments ranging from denial to suggestions of a Western political conspiracy.

The sense of persecution from Russian authorities was underlined by the response of Vitaly Mutko, the country's sports minister, to the scandal.

He told state television broadcaster Russia Today: “There is the report of the commission and there is the opinion of Mr Pound, who actually overstepped and exceeded the competence of this commission, and gave his personal assessment, rather a general assessment of the entire anti-doping activities in Russia.

“You can’t just go on like this. You need to understand our sentiment. Sometimes it is just offensive. The country has done so much to provide support for sports and still all the time we have to prove something to someone.

“After all, we are talking about the president of the international track and field federation who is facing charges, not Russia! So why are we blaming Russia?

“There are dozens of publications alleging the use of doping,” Mutko said. “I won’t name the specific countries or athletes, and no one established special commissions to investigate that.”

Mutko also vehemently denied Pound's conclusion that the scale of wrongdoing in Russian athletics necessitated some kind of state sanction.

“The Russian doping agencies today are really independent from the government," he added. "We only collect samples that are then stored in a laboratory and are supervised for decades. It is not Russia that now heads the anti-doping organisation.”

The office of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is usually happy to pose with Russia's sports champions, declined to become involved.

"I have nothing to add to the refutations already made," Putin's personal spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a Monday evening conference call. Accusations of FSB infiltration of anti-doping work are "not part of the Kremlin agenda," he added.

Meanwhile, the head of Russia's medical agency, Vladimir Uiba, told Interfax he believed the report to be "politically motivated" and linked to international sanctions against Russia.

The Russian athletics federation denies the main charges in the report. Acting president Vadim Zelichenok told The Associated Press that calls to ban Russia's track and field team from next year's Olympics are not "objective" because the federation leadership changed earlier this year, meaning some of the key figures identified in the WADA report are no longer employed.

Regardless of whether its team is banned from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the report is a hammer blow to Russian athletics.

The Wada commission recommended a lifetime ban for several athletes, including reigning Olympic 800m champion Maria Savinova, who was filmed discussing doping methods. That follows a string of positive tests and doping bans that have caught dozens of Russian athletes, including five Olympic track and field gold medalists in the last two years.

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