News World News

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Sports doping film proves Russia meddled in US elections - producers

Director Bryan Fogel (Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
Director Bryan Fogel (Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

The makers of a critically acclaimed documentary exposing the level of state-sponsored doping in Russian athletics have said their film is proof of the country's meddling in the US elections.

Speaking ahead of a screening of Icarus in London, producer Dan Cogan said: "The film set out to be about doping in sports, but it ended up being an expose on the level to which Russia is willing to pervert and corrupt international systems of every kind for its own ends."

The film, which was released last summer and has just been nominated for a Bafta, began as an experiment by director Bryan Fogel, an amateur cyclist, to see if doping could take him to the very top of the sport.

He enlisted the help of then-head of Russia's anti-doping agency Dr Grigory Rodchenkov to devise him a doping regime to help him beat the system.

As the film progressed, and the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) began investigating Russian athletics, Dr Rodchenkov turned whistleblower, revealing how doping was actively sponsored and protected by Vladimir Putin's government.

"This film demonstrates a continuum from sport on the soft power end on one end, to politics and hard power of Russia's continued manipulation of the rule of law, of international systems and the integrity of the systems," said Cogan.

"Hopefully what people will take away from the film is that if they are willing to do this in sports, look at what they are willing to do somewhere else, that's even more important."

He added: "I think the United States government has to get its shit together and organise and understand that Russia is an existential threat to the integrity of the democratic process and the rule of law in the United States, as seen particularly through our election process."

Cogan and Fogel say that their number one concern is Dr Rodchenkov's safety, and say that one of the biggest benefits of the film's slew of awards nominations is keeping his profile high.

They accuse the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of completely abandoning him, and of bowing to Russia by allowing their athletes in through the back door at the upcoming winter games to compete as neutral "athletes from Russia".

Fogel said: "Here has been uncovered the single biggest conspiracy in sport history, that changes all of Olympic history.

"It calls into question every single medal ever won by every Russian athlete across all sports, across all Olympic Games, and the penalty is essentially a slap on the wrist."

Cogan said: "We are very, very concerned about Grigory, I think this is a guy who has exposed extraordinary fraud and corruption that goes all the way to the top of the Russian system, all the way up to Vladimir Putin and I think he is not safe.

"Just months ago, a former head of the Russian Olympic Committee said publicly that Grigory should be shot as he would have been in Stalin's time.

"The Russian government has officially requested his extradition from the United States, which if this were granted Grigory would either be in prison for the rest of his life or else he'd be dead."

He continued: "If Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC said publicly 'If anything happens to Rodchenkov, Russia is out of the Olympic Games for the next 20 years', nothing would happen [to him].

"Yet, despite the fact that Grigory has exposed all this corruption and has helped uphold the true spirit of the Olympic ideal, the IOC has absolutely abandoned him and is not helping him or his security in any way.

"And if anything happens to Grigory, blood is on the hands of Thomas Bach as much as it is on the hands of the Russians."

He added: "You have to ask yourself, what do the Russians have on Bach, on the other central power figures in the IOC?

"There is nothing else that explains why they would allow the Olympic ideal and the Olympics itself to be dragged through the mud and embarrassed this way.

"You have to wonder what has been put in their pockets or what Kompromat the Russians have."

Fogel said: "In Russia there was never any anti-doping [body], there was always secret doping at the heart of the programme from the very beginning."

He added: "It's always been that way. And to this day, and that's not just in sports and in business dealings, it's a cultural thing, that for anything there's always a way around it.

"There's always somebody to be bought and there's a way around it and that is systemic in the culture and that's not just in regards to doping in sport."

Fogel and Cogan were joined by financier-turned-activist Bill Browder, who has spearheaded an international campaign against Russia over the killing of Moscow lawyer Sergei Magnitsky whilst in custody.

He decided to help promote Icarus following his own experiences of the Russian regime.

He said: "What the story really shows is that the entire facade of Russia, their sports facade, their politics facade, everything is a fraud and is done in an extremely plausible way, and for Russians of course it's a terrible realisation that their leader has effectively been lying to them about their country."

After working in Russia for almost a decade as head of Hermitage Capital Management, Mr Browder was blacklisted in 2005 after allegedly exposing the extent of corruption among bureaucrats and politicians.

Mr Magnitsky, one of Hermitage's auditors, was arrested in November 2008 and charged with tax evasion, but died in prison a year later before the case came to trial.

Following his death, the Magnitsky Act passed in to US law, targeting Russian officials involved in his detention and death and preventing them from using the US banking system - similar laws have since been passed in Europe and the US.

Russia has repeatedly pressed Interpol for his arrest, but has always been refused because the case is political.

Commenting on the IOC's decision to let Russian athletes compete at the Winter Games, Mr Browder said: "Putin operates in a different sphere in that they cheat, they often get caught, and if they get caught they just blunder ahead as if they haven't been caught.

"I think they are going to squeeze in through the back door, and the fact the IOC has allowed them in through the back door is shameful and shows there is clearly some kind of corruption inside the IOC."

Regarding Dr Rodchenkov's safety, he said: "I don't think Russia will touch him right now. They will wait until he has drifted into oblivion and then they'll go after him and kill him.

"I think the Russians will go to America or wherever they need to and try to kill him."

In the short-term, Mr Browder sees no hope for Russian athletes in international sport.

He said: "The Russians cheat on everything. They don't know how to behave honestly.

"The Russian government is effectively a criminal organisation - any opportunity they have to cheat they take that opportunity.

"Not just in sports, it's in international politics, it's in finance, it's in everything that they do, so they don't know how to behave properly, it's part of the DNA of the Putin regime."

He added: "I think under Putin they'll continue to cheat.

"He forces them to cheat, there are many athletes that probably don't want to cheat in Russia but they're not allowed to participate on the national team unless they cheat, unless they take drugs.

"Russian athletes don't think of things in terms of sportsmanship, they're all just people trying to survive in a terrible, oppressive regime."

Press Association

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News