The prospect of Russian and Kenyan athletes being barred from the Olympics gathered momentum as a tidal wave of doping sleaze engulfed both countries with just three months to go before the Rio Games.
Kenya was plunged into crisis after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) ruled at a meeting in Montreal that the African nation’s drug-testing body had breached strict international rules.
The WADA declaration of non-compliance places a question mark against the participation of Kenyan athletes in Rio.
Rene Bouchard, Chairman of WADA’s compliance review committee (CRC), said Kenya’s drug testing agency was declared “non-compliant with immediate effect.”
Russia’s anti-doping agency was declared non-compliant last year after a WADA independent committee uncovered evidence of a state-sponsored doping program which led to Russia’s suspension from international athletics.
Russian track and field athletes will be banned from Rio unless the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) lifts its suspension next month.
But even as WADA held its board meeting in Montreal, a fresh round of revelations about drugs at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi erupted in the New York Times.
The Times report quoted the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory as saying that dozens of Russian athletes, including 15 medalists, were involved in a successful plot to evade drug-testers.
Urine samples swapped
The laboratory director, Grigory Rodchenkov, detailed how athletes were given a three-drug cocktail of performance enhancing substances combined with alcohol to boost absorption.
Up to 100 tainted urine samples were replaced with clean ones collected months before, with samples passed through a hole in a lab wall at night.
“We were fully equipped, knowledgeable, experienced and perfectly prepared for Sochi like never before,” Rodchenkov was quoted by the Times as saying. “It was working like a Swiss watch.”
Russia topped the table in Sochi with 33 medals, including 13 Olympic titles.
Rodchenkov moved to the United States following his resignation after WADA’s initial report into Russian doping was released in November.
In February, after his departure, two of Rodchenkov’s former anti-doping colleagues in Russia died unexpectedly.
The New York Times report also alleged that Russian officials involved in the plot had found a way to access supposedly tamper-proof containers used to collect urine samples without anyone knowing.
The International Olympic Committee called on WADA to investigate the claims.
“These allegations are very detailed and very worrying and we ask the World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate immediately,” an IOC spokesman said.
Claims ‘absurd, baseless’
In Moscow, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko described the latest allegations of systematic doping as “absurd.”
“I think that the guys (accused by the New York Times) are exceptional athletes, the accusations are absurd,” Mutko said in comments cited by Russian news agency TASS.
“The charges against them are baseless. We will analyse this article and decide how we will react,” he added.
Beckie Scott, the chair of the WADA Athletes Committee, expressed concern at the latest revelations regarding Russia.
Scott, who has repeatedly called for a wider investigation into doping across all Russian sport, said the report “underlined the importance in leading investigations on these athletes in order to protect the clean athletes.”
While the Times report piles more pressure on the IOC and IAAF to act against Russia, WADA President Craig Reedie offered hope to Kenya as it attempts to clean up its act in time for the Olympics.
Asked if Kenya could become compliant before the Olympics, he replied: “Yes, it’s a question how quickly … the ball is very much in their court.”
Kenya has missed two deadlines set by WADA to show they are tackling doping, with the country warned it was being placed in “critical care” earlier this year over failings in its anti-doping programme.
Kenya topped the medals table at the 2015 World Athletics Championships in Beijing.
However, the country has been the subject of intense scrutiny, with more than 40 Kenyan athletes suspended for doping in the past two years.
Thursday’s WADA declaration was greeted with dismay by Sharad Rao, the Kenyan official appointed by the IAAF ethics commission to probe doping in his country.
“In view of the circumstances, the decision is counter-productive and too drastic,” Rao said.
Kenyan athletes also hit back at the ruling, with world champion javelin thrower Julius Yego insisting the current anti-doping regime was yielding results.
“The news is not good for us athletes, who have been working extra hard at training to prepare for the Olympic Games,” Yego said.