Russian government officials engineered the drug-fueled corruption of nearly 30 Olympic sports, an investigator found, prompting the World Anti-Doping Agency to call for a ban of the country’s entire team from the Rio de Janeiro Games.
The scheme lasted at least four years, covered 28 Olympic sports – both summer and winter – and involved at least 312 positive tests that went unreported at the behest of higher-ups in the country’s sports ministry, according to a 97-page report issued Monday.
“A mind-blowing level of corruption within both Russian sport and government,'” said Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
WADA, which hired arbitrator Richard McLaren to lead the investigation, called on the IOC to decline entries of all Russian athletes to this summer’s Olympics.
“In the face of such evidence of state-sponsored subversion of anti-doping processes, WADA insists upon imposition of the most serious consequences to protect clean athletes from the scourge of doping in sport,” said WADA President Craig Reedie, who is also an IOC member.
IOC President Thomas Bach called the revelations a “shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sports and on the Olympic Games” and said the IOC wouldn’t hesitate to apply the toughest sanctions available against those accused of cheating. The IOC executive board will meet Tuesday to begin sorting through options.
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McLaren’s report said allegations made by Moscow’s former anti-doping lab director about sample switching at the Sochi Olympics went much as described in a New York Times story in May. That program involved dark-of-night bottle tampering in order to switch dirty samples with clean ones; it prevented Russian athletes, including more than a dozen medal winners, from testing positive.
But McLaren said the bottle tampering in Sochi was a one-shot deal. Meanwhile, he described tactics he labeled “disappearing positive methodology” that began in 2011, shortly after Russia’s disappointing performance at the Vancouver Olympics. It included the 2013 track world championships in Moscow and was in place as recently as the 2015 swimming world championships in Kazan – when everyone in Russian sports knew they were under the doping microscope.
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In short, Russia’s deputy minister of sports, Yuri Nagornykh, who was also part of Russia’s Olympic Committee, would direct workers at Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory of which positive samples to send through and which to hold back. Assisting the plan was Russia’s national security service – the FSB, the current version of the Soviet Union’s KGB. Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Nagornykh to his post in 2010. On Monday, Putin said officials named as directly responsible in the doping scheme would be suspended.
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McLaren said out of 577 positive sample screenings, 312 positive results were held back – or labeled “Save” by the lab workers – but that was only a “small slice” of the data that could have been examined. More than 240 of the 312 “Saves” came from track and field and wrestling, but other sports involved included swimming, rowing, snowboarding – even table tennis.
McLaren suggested the numbers could have been higher, but he had only 57 days for his investigation.
“In an ideal world, we would’ve done a great deal more work with the data,'” he said.
Time is crucial because the Olympics begin Aug. 5, and decisions about Russia’s participation in Rio must be made.
On Thursday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport will determine the fate of 68 track and field athletes who have petitioned to compete in Rio despite a previously delivered ban of the Russian track team by that sport’s federation, the IAAF.
Reedie said WADA is working to establish non-binding guidelines that will help the IOC and international sports federations identify exceptions to the Russian ban – notably, Russian athletes who trained in other countries that had robust, clean anti-doping systems. Those athletes, WADA said, should be allowed to compete in Rio under a neutral flag.
McLaren said he was “unwaveringly confident” in his report, and insisted there was no leak, as several sports organizations suggested over the weekend, when draft letters calling for Russia’s ban were leaked to the media.
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Those letters were written in anticipation of the sort of results McLaren delivered Monday – results that were previewed in a mostly overlooked section of the IAAF report, released in June, that called for the Russian track team’s ouster.
U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said the report proved a point he had made earlier this summer – that the current anti-doping system is broken.
He was relying on the IOC and international sports federations to figure out appropriate sanctions. But despite WADA’s recommendation, there is far from a consensus on what those sanctions will be, as the sports world toes the line between what Bach called “collective responsibility and individual justice.”
Among those not in favor of a full Russian ban were leaders in gymnastics – a sport that was not among the 28 with non-reported positives.
“The right to participate at the games cannot be stolen from an athlete, who has duly qualified and has not been found guilty of doping,” said Bruno Grandi, president of gymnastics’ international federation. “Blanket bans have never been and will never be just.”