MOSCOW -- The World Anti-Doping Agency has recommended today that Russia be totally barred from this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after a damning new investigation by the body found the country directed a doping cover-up affecting virtually “all sports” in the country.
Russia’s track and field athletes are already barred from competing in Rio after a WADA investigation in November found a cover-up of systemic doping among them. The new WADA investigation found that doping affected almost every sport, not just track and field, and provided fresh evidence it was controlled directly by the Russian state.
The investigation was presented in Toronto today by the man who oversaw it, Richard McLaren, a Canadian lawyer commissioned by WADA to examine spectacular claims made in May to The New York Times of a cover-up at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. McLaren's report largely upheld the claims made to The New York Times by Grigory Rodchenkov, a former head of Russia's anti-doping laboratory, and described in far greater detail how the system was controlled directly by Russia's ministry of sport and aided by its FSB security service.
Speaking at a news conference, McLaren said Russia had created a “state directed” system that “allowed cheating Russian athletes to compete while using performance-enhancing drugs” and that it "applies to all sports."
After the report’s release, WADA released a list of recommendations, including that the International Olympic Committee and Paralympic Committee “decline entries, for Rio 2016, of all athletes submitted by the Russian Olympic Committee ... and the Russian Paralympic Committee.” The list also recommends Russian officials be barred from attending the Olympics.
Russian President Vladimir Putin today called the WADA report a “dangerous relapse into political interference in sport” that could lead to the splitting of the Olympic movement. In a statement he promised a police investigation of the findings but cast doubt on their trustworthiness, suggesting that they were the product of a U.S. conspiracy.
Coming just weeks before the Olympics, Russia now faces a wholesale ban of its athletes from the Summer Games. Before the report, 10 national anti-doping bodies — including those of the U.S., Germany and Japan — called for Russia to be barred if the report was damning. WADA does not have the power to bar Russia, but international sports bodies are bound to take its recommendations into account.
In a statement immediately after the report’s release, the IOC said that “the report shows a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sport and on the Olympic Games” and that the IOC would “not hesitate to take the toughest sanctions available” against those implicated in it. The IOC is due to convene a conference call on Tuesday, during which it is expected to discuss the issue.
The report’s fallout could reach beyond the Olympics, with WADA calling for FIFA to investigate Russian soccer and the country’s sports minister, Vitalii Mutko, who is heading up the country’s preparations to host the 2018 soccer World Cup.
Russia has repeatedly denied that it has a state doping program. But McLaren's report, which he said was supported by forensic and documentary evidence as well as testimony, describes Russian state involvement in the cover-up in far greater detail than WADA's previous reports.
According to today’s report, the system hinged on Russia’s anti-doping laboratory in Moscow, where Rodchenkov was the director. According to McLaren, every positive sample was sent to Russia’s sports ministry for it to decide which samples should be covered up. An order would then be sent back down to the lab, ordering it to conceal certain results, which it would do by entering false information into Russia’s and WADA’s anti-doping databases.
The report said that the orders to cover up were particularly frequent around international competitions hosted by Russia and the Olympics, encompassing all the major athletics events hosted by the country since 2011.
“The state implemented a simple fail-safe strategy,” McLaren said in the report. “If all the operational precautions to promote and permit doping by Russian athletes proved to have been ineffective for whatever reason, the laboratory provided a fail-safe mechanism. The state had the ability to transform a positive analytical result into a negative one.”
Those findings are particularly damaging to Russia’s hopes of going to the Olympics because the report says it demonstrates its anti-doping system was compromised for every sport.
“It affected athletes from all sport disciplines whose urine samples were being analyzed by the Moscow laboratory,” the report read, noting the swapping of samples was widespread from at least 2011 to 2015.
Russia has disputed that there was a system of doping and has never accepted WADA’s earlier findings, insisting that doping was done only by individual athletes. Last month Putin told an audience, “There could never be support for doping at the state level.”
But today’s report described the cover-up as “state directed and controlled,” overseen at the highest levels of Russia’s sports ministry and assisted extensively by the FSB. It identified Russia’s deputy sports minister, Yuri Nagornykh, as the man who chose which samples should be concealed. The report found that Nagornykh was tasked with “a plan to protect dirty athletes” at the Sochi Olympics.
The report could implicate Mutko, whom Rodchenkov accused of knowing about the cover-up. The report, however, stops short of identifying him as directly involved. Mutko’s chief adviser on anti-doping, Natalya Zhelanova, who is tasked with overhauling Russia’s anti-doping system, was identified as part of the scheme.
Today, Putin pledged to suspend all those named as directly carrying out the scheme. The Kremlin, though, quickly clarified that it did not consider this to include Mutko, who denies the allegations and previously suggested they were intended to strip Russia of the soccer World Cup.
The report detailed the FSB’s involvement, finding that the service had at least three agents at the labs, including one posing as a plumber.
It confirmed some of the most extraordinary claims made by Rodchenkov, including one claim that the FSB succeeded in opening the supposedly tamper-proof urine sample bottles at the Sochi Olympics. McLaren's team ran experiments that demonstrated this was possible. Analyses found tiny scratches and marks on the inside of bottles from some Russian athletes at Sochi, showing they had been opened.
Russian officials have called Rodchenkov’s claims delusional fantasies and argued that WADA’s findings are too reliant on his testimony. McLaren said that forensic tests, such as those conducted on the bottles, corroborated Rodchenkov’s allegations.
McLaren did not make any recommendations about whether Russia should now be completely banned from the Rio Olympics, saying his job was to “establish the facts.”
Widespread calls from other countries for Russia to be barred are expected. Over the weekend, a draft letter signed by 10 national anti-doping bodies, including the United States', was leaked. It calls for the IOC “to declare that no athlete can represent Russia at the Rio Olympic Games.”
Russian officials have repeatedly said a blanket ban would be unfair and suggested the WADA investigations are part of a U.S.-led campaign to punish Russia. Russian state TV today was scheduled to show a film attacking WADA’s motives for investigating.
Putin attacked the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), accusing it of influencing or even possibly writing the report, noting that the draft letter calling for Russia to be banned was written before the report’s release.
“What can be behind this rush?” Putin said in his statement. “The impression arises that the experts at USADA, at a minimum, possessed access to the unpublished report or maybe even gave it its tone and contents.”
Travis Taggert, the head of the USADA, hailed McLaren’s report, which he said in a statement proved a “mind-blowing level of corruption” in Russian sport.
McLaren earlier rejected Russian accusations he had been influenced, saying he was “supremely confident” in the fairness of his report. “We can demonstrate the existence of this system beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.