Friday 15 December 2017

WADA reveal evidence of 'state-directed, fail-safe' doping across Russian Olympic sport

The Olympic flag flies next to the Russian flag
The Olympic flag flies next to the Russian flag

Matt Slater

A two-month investigation commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency has uncovered evidence of "state-directed, fail-safe" doping throughout Russian Olympic sport.

The investigation's chairman Richard McLaren delivered three main findings at a press conference in Toronto on Monday - that doped samples "disappeared" from the anti-doping laboratory in Moscow, that they were swapped with clean samples at the laboratory for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 and that these plans were directed by the Russian sports ministry.

McLaren said he had "unwavering confidence" in his findings, which will surely lead to even louder calls for Russia to be banned from the Rio Olympics.

This investigation was set up in May following an interview in the New York Times with the former director of Moscow's anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, in which he described an elaborate plan to ensure Russian success at Sochi 2014.

Rodchenkov, who was sacked after the first WADA-funded investigation into doping in Russian athletics last year, has been in hiding in the United States ever since and has been branded a "criminal" and a "traitor" by senior Russian figures.

But McLaren's "intense" 57-day investigation has completely vindicated the remarkable tale of state-sponsored cheating that he outlined in print in May.

McLaren, who also worked on that initial investigation into Russian athletics, said his team had used forensic analysis, seized computers, studied data and performed extra tests on stored samples from the Sochi Games and other major events.

Rodchenkov, for example, had claimed that the Russian secret service (FSB) had worked out how to open and re-seal the supposedly tamper-proof bottles that are used for storing urine samples so that the contents could be replaced with "clean" urine.

To prove this allegation, McLaren sent a random amount of samples from "protected Russian athletes" at Sochi 2014 stored by the anti-doping laboratory in Lausanne to a lab in London to see if they had scratch marks around the necks of the bottles that would indicate they had been manipulated.

McLaren said "100 per cent of the bottles had been scratched" although added that this would "not have been visible to the untrained eye".

He said had "unwavering confidence" in the 103-page report's findings, having only included items that could be proven "beyond reasonable doubt".

reaking down his three main findings, McLaren said the "disappearing sample methodology" involved Rodchenkov's lab, the Russian anti-doping agency (RUSADA), the Center of Sports Preparation of National Teams of Russia (CSP) and the Russian sports ministry.

The report says Rodchenkov would receive a "save" or "quarantine" code message from the ministry to determine whether he simply lost an athlete's sample or correctly processed it.

Altogether, 643 samples from doped athletes vanished between 2012 and 2015, with more than 30 different sports benefiting.

McLaren's report directly names deputy sports minister Yuri Nagornykh and chief anti-doping advisor Natalia Zhelanova as being central to this scheme, but also says it was "inconceivable" that sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who also runs Russian football and sits on FIFA's council, was unaware of what was going on.

The second finding, which McLaren refers to as the "sample swapping methodology", relates to the clandestine operation that Rodchenkov ran with the FSB at Sochi's anti-doping laboratory.

This involved smuggling Russian samples which would almost certainly have failed a drugs test out of the lab through a "mouse hole" in the wall and swapping them for samples with clean urine stored in a secret room on the other side of the wall.

Rodchenkov would sometimes add table salt to the urine to hide the manipulation and then an FSB agent would reseal the bottle.

The exiled Russian told the New York Times he had done this for "dozens of athletes", including at least 15 medals winners in Sochi, where Russia topped the medal table.

McLaren said he could not confirm the number of medal winners but said it was several.

Regarding his final finding, that the Russian sports ministry and the FSB, the successor to the Soviet Union's KGB, had been heavily involved in all of these schemes, McLaren described their role as "actively directing, controlling and overseeing" the endemic doping.

McLaren's carefully chosen words have already provoked a dramatic reaction from around the sports world, with many anti-doping experts saying the findings were far more damaging and damning than even the pessimists had expected.

Russian Olympic sport was already in trouble because of the 2015 investigation that found evidence of widespread doping in track and field in the country.

Led by former WADA president Richard Pound, that report resulted in the Moscow laboratory losing its accredited status, RUSADA being shut down and a global competition ban for the Russian athletics federation.

Last month, that ban was unanimously upheld by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

Only Russian athletes who have been individually cleared by the IAAF because they have spotless records - that have been verified by non-Russian anti-doping agencies - are currently eligible for the Rio Games, although the Russian Olympic Committee has appealed against this at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

A result in the appeal hearing is expected by Thursday but any hope of a Russian win now seems even more unlikely. Russia's weightlifting team is also facing a ban from the Rio Olympics, with the International Weightlifting Federation announcing last month it would hand one-year suspensions to any national federations responsible for three or more anti-doping violations in the re-testing of samples taken at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

Prior to Monday's revelations, however, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach had been broadly supportive of Russian calls to focus on individual wrongdoers, as opposed to making collective punishments.

That stance has caused considerable debate in global sport, particularly in the last week as a number of anti-doping agencies and athletes' groups had lined up to call on Bach to ban the entire Russian delegation from Rio if Rodchenkov's claims were proven.

Bach, who took over as IOC boss in 2013, issued a statement shortly after McLaren's press conference to say he would now "carefully study the complex and detailed allegations, in particular with regard to the Russian Ministry of Sport".

The former Olympic fencing champion added: "The findings of the report show a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sport and on the Olympic Games.

"Therefore, the IOC will not hesitate to take the toughest sanctions available against any individual or organisation implicated."

The IOC's executive board will hold a teleconference on Tuesday to make preliminary decisions, "which may include provisional sanctions" for Rio.

Shock at the scale of the scandal appears to be almost universal, although no official word has emerged from Russia yet.

UK Anti-Doping, which has been running the testing programme in Russia on WADA's behalf since RUSADA's suspension, said the entire sporting community must unite to find new ways and a stronger commitment to ensure clean competition.

"We have an obligation to help safeguard clean athletes around the globe by working closely with international partners to support the development of robust anti-doping practices in countries where these are weak," said UKAD chief executive Nicole Sapstead.

"Everyone has a responsibility to support this process for the sake of clean and honest athletes."

UK sports minister Tracey Crouch said: "Professor McLaren's report has exposed the extreme lengths some will go to in order to cheat.

"This shocking report is a wake-up call to the sporting world and I hope it will act as a catalyst for us to work even harder to protect the integrity of sport and the Olympic movement itself."

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