Russia’s failure to acknowledge it operated a state-sponsored doping program, continued obstruction of testing and cyberattacks on the World Anti-Doping Agency were denounced on Sunday. WADA officials warned that Russian sport will struggle to regain the trust of the sports world if leaders continue to refuse to accept key findings from investigation reports which exposed deep-rooted corruption.
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The public criticism in front of Vladimir Putin’s anti-doping troubleshooter at the WADA Foundation Board meeting came as it was disclosed that investigator Richard McLaren’s final report into Russian state-sponsored doping will be published on Dec. 9.
Vitaly Smirnov, the former Soviet sports minister now heading Russia’s state-backed anti-doping commission, responded defiantly: “Russia has never had a state-sponsored system of doping.”
That unwavering stance drew a sharp response from WADA deputy director general Rob Koehler.
“There needs to be an acceptance of the findings of the McLaren report … because they are factual,” Koehler said.
“Can they move on?” he added. “We’ve said from the beginning cultural change is one of the biggest things that needs to happen. Part of cultural change is the admittance of some of the facts.”
Vitaly Mutko, who was recently promoted from sports minister to deputy prime minister, was banned from attending the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August after being accused by McLaren of ordering the cover-up of a failed drug test by a foreign soccer player.
Mutko’s anti-doping adviser, Nataliya Zhelanova, and one of his deputies at the sports ministry, Yuri Nagornykh, were also ousted on Putin’s orders after McLaren said they helped to orchestrate cover-ups of hundreds of drug tests.
“He was not (a member of the government) he was deputy minister,” Smirnov said of Nagornykh. “Only ministers are members of the government.”
WADA pushed unsuccessfully for Russia’s entire delegation to be banned from the Rio Games, exacerbating divisions with the International Olympic Committee.
“If a certain person is a criminal, it doesn’t mean the whole country is,” said Smirnov, a former Soviet sports minister and IOC member. When asked if Mutko was a criminal, he responded: “Don’t push me”
In an earlier presentation, WADA’s Koehler criticized Mutko for claiming McLaren’s report was “falsified” and threatening to prosecute those assisting the investigators. Koehler also pointed to cyberattacks on WADA that “we are told are led by Russian espionage groups.”
A hacking group known as Fancy Bears, which WADA says is linked to Russia, has been releasing records of “Therapeutic Use Exemptions” which allow athletes to use otherwise-banned drugs because of a verified medical need. WADA said hackers are still trying to obtain logins and passwords.
Russia’s anti-doping body was declared non-compliant last year when former WADA president Dick Pound detailed widespread cheating in track and field and led the IAAF to ban Russia’s entire athletics team.
“The problems that we had are re-occurring,” Koehler said. He detailed how officials are being denied access to so-called closed cities where athletes are training and a sealed-off laboratory in Moscow, preventing international federations accessing stored samples.
WADA will remain under the leadership of Craig Reedie for the next three years after the 75-year-old was re-elected unopposed for a second term.