Sports

Report: More than 1,000 Russian athletes involved in doping conspiracy or cover-up

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LONDON — A new report by the world’s anti-doping watchdog has laid out mountainous proof of Russia’s systematic doping from 2011 to 2015, implicating layers of government employees and more than 1,000 athletes in over 30 sports, and intensifying pressure on the International Olympic Committee to penalize Russia ahead of the 2018 Winter Games.

The evidence, published by the World Anti-Doping Agency, was the coda to a set of investigations conducted by the Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, who issued a damning report in July that had dramatic repercussions for Russia at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Mr. McLaren concluded last summer that Russia had orchestrated rampant doping dating back years that crescendoed in an elaborate urine-swapping operation at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, confirming what The New York Times reported in May.

But in the face of staunch denials from Russian officials and skepticism from sports authorities reluctant to punish the nation on his word, he and a team have continued their work these last five months.

Asked for their evidence, they zeroed in on the individuals who enabled the cheating as well as those who benefited from it, publishing today more than 1,166 pieces of proof, including emails, documents and expert analysis of laboratory and forensic analysis of doping samples.

Among that package were key communications between Russia’s former deputy sports minister Yuri Nagornykh — who was dismissed amid scandal last summer — and Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the nation’s former antidoping lab director who told The Times last spring exactly how he had helped top Russian athletes dope on government orders.

Mr. Nagornykh and the sports ministry gave Dr. Rodchenkov explicit direction to cover up top athletes’ use of performance-enhancing steroids, emails and spreadsheets showed.

As Mr. McLaren laid bare nearly all of the cards in his hand today, he made it undisputedly clear the extent to which one of the most powerful sports nations repeatedly cheated.

His report and an accompanying searchable website of evidence leaves little doubt that Russia’s doping program was among the most sophisticated in sports history, perhaps ranking only behind that of the East German regime.

The report outlined competitions that had been tainted by years of extraordinary preparations, ensuring Russia’s dominance at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, 2013 track and field world championships in Moscow and 2014 Sochi Games.

The names of most of those athletes were redacted — they were referred to by unique sets of numbers — but their identities had been privately shared with the relevant officials for each sport’s global governing body, Mr. McLaren said, as well as the Olympic committee, which has appointed two commissions to follow-up on the Sochi scandal.

Outside of the Olympics, sports governing bodies have autonomy over sanctioning global athletes for violations like doping or sample manipulation.

As part of his inquiry, Mr. McLaren examined some 100 urine samples of Russian athletes from Sochi out of a total of approximately 250 that have been preserved since 2014.

The I.O.C.’s reaction plan now includes inspecting the roughly 150 samples that have yet to be scrutinized, examining them for evidence of banned substances — unlikely to be found under the scenario of urine substitution — as well as DNA mismatches in urine samples and other signs of tampering that Mr. McLaren’s team spoke of last summer: microscopic scratches on the necks of the doping sample bottles, as well as levels of table salt that experts said were physiologically impossible for human beings to produce.

(Dr. Rodchenkov had said he added salt or water at the Sochi Games, to make certain scientific specifications on tampered-with samples match those of original, tainted urine samples.)

The I.O.C. commissions’ work is expected to lay the foundation for disciplinary action against even more Russian Olympians, following a year in which dozens have been sanctioned and more than 100 barred from global competition.

Leading up to the report’s release on Friday, sports officials had braced themselves for the final set of facts from WADA with which the disciplinary authorities would be expected to work.

“I hope it’s all for nothing,” Gian-Franco Kasper, an I.O.C. executive and president of the skiing’s global governing body, had said on a smoke break in Switzerland this week during a full day of closed-door meetings with sports officials who were anticipating the McLaren report.

“For the winter sports federations, we’re in the middle of the season,” Mr. Kasper said. “We’re going to have to react immediately. In the middle of the competition, it’s not easy.”

Winter sports officials could encounter similarly acute pressure as that which was faced by summer sports officials last year, when they had about two weeks to rule on which Russian athletes could compete in Rio following Mr. McLaren’s report.

Russia is set to hold the world championships in bobsled and skeleton in Sochi in two months. American athletes have talked about boycotting that event as a show of dissatisfaction with sports officials’ handling of the Russian doping scandal.

On Thursday, less than 24 hours before the report’s publication, Thomas Bach, president of the I.O.C. repeated the Olympic committee’s guidance that sports federations freeze or terminate their preparations for hosting events in Russia.

Mr. Bach condemned the system that Mr. McLaren had outlined. “Clearly for me, if an athlete or an official would be part of such a system, I would not like to see this person again at any Olympic Games in whatever function. Not as an athlete or as a coach or as an official.”

Ahead of Friday, Mr. Bach had little idea what to expect. Mr. McLaren had closely guarded his findings, declining to share them in real-time with Olympic officials as they requested; he instead waited to present the package made public Friday. Going forward, he will be cooperating with the I.O.C. commissions.

One of the chief criticisms Russian officials and some global sports authorities had made of Mr. McLaren’s initial work was that he had not heard Russia’s side of the story. In Friday’s report, he addressed that possible vulnerability, invoking his communications with Vitaly Smirnov, a former longtime Olympic official from Russia whom President Vladimir V. Putin appointed last summer to lead antidoping reform.

Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s former minister of sport whom Mr. Putin recently elevated to deputy prime minister, was unable to meet with Mr. McLaren, the report said.

Mr. McLaren seized on some of Mr. Smirnov’s statements as further acknowledgments that the government had until recently controlled Russia’s national antidoping agency, which is intended to be independent. Outlining Russia’s progress in recent months, Mr. Smirnov told Mr. McLaren that agency would be “liberated” from the state, and that antidoping operations would be broadly removed from “subordinacy” to the sports ministry.

Those statements, Mr. McLaren suggested Friday, may be the most direct sort of admission he expects anyone will receive from Russia that the “institutional conspiracy” he detailed took place.

Source

http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/olympics/2016/12/09/REPORT-More-than-1-000-Russian-athletes-involved-in-doping-conspiracy-or-cover-up/stories/201612090182