While the World Anti-Doping Agency has said it found widespread doping and corruption by Russian athletes, Russian officials have said their country is being held to a double standard and called the watchdog’s report a “political hit job”.
The former Wada president, Dick Pound, who led the extensive investigation into doping in Russian athletics, said on Monday that violations “sabotaged” the London 2012 Olympics and recommended that the IAAF suspends Russia from competition. He also recommended that five coaches and five middle-distance runners from Russia, among them gold and bronze medal winners in London, be banned from athletics for life.
But Wada’s findings were widely seen here as part of a western campaign against Russia. Several athletes and officials have suggested that doping investigators are trying to put unnecessary pressure on Russian athletes and hinder them at competitions. State television and other media quoted officials saying Russia had been singled out. “We don’t deny that we have problems but they exist around the whole world; we have the same percent as all countries do,” the sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, told the news agency Interfax.
Pound said on Monday it was “not possible” that Mutko could have been unaware of such extensive doping. Fifa has said it will study the Wada report’s findings about the sports minister, who is also the head of Russia’s football union and the top official in charge of the World Cup that the country will host in 2018. But Mutko said his surname was not included in the report and that its findings were not backed up with evidence. He repeated the Russian saying “a fish rots from the head”, arguing that cheating and corruption are a problem at the highest levels of world sport.
Artyom Patsev, the lawyer of the All-Russia Athletics Federation, told the state news agency R-Sport that, if there were any truth to the allegations, Russian athletics would have been suspended “a long time ago”. He said Wada was using vague ethics claims to pressure Russia and said there was “no logic, no common sense” in the recommendation.
“This whole case smells of a political hit job and nothing more,” Patsev said. The MP Sergei Poddubny, deputy head of the physical education and sport committee, told the state news agency RIA Novosti that the Wada commission’s doping allegations were “completely political statements”, arguing that Russia was being held to a double standard.
“Let’s not mince words. American, Canadian athletes, they’ve caught even more of them than Russians. They engage in doping literally every year,” he said. “They catch athletes. But there wasn’t such an extensive campaign. Why not?
“Maybe there is a problem with doping but I don’t think it’s connected to the cases you’re talking about,” the former athletics head coach Valentin Maslakov told the Guardian when asked about allegations of doping at the London Olympics. Maslakov resigned in January after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) said it was concerned about the number of Russian doping cases.
Moscow appeared to be preparing to challenge the new findings. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency said it would conduct its own internal investigation of the allegations included in the report. Wada recommended on Monday that the Moscow anti-doping laboratory be stripped of its international accreditation.
Valery Ryazansky, the head of the social committee in the upper house of parliament, told the state television channel Russia-24 that Russia needed to punish those found guilty of doping while also lobbying against suspension from competition. He also said Russian delegates to international sporting organisations should seek to change regulations and implement a statute of limitations on suspected doping violations.
The argument that Russia was under unfair scrutiny is one that officials have used in the past. Following accusations in August that doping was suspected in most of Russia’s athletics wins between 2001 and 2012, Maslakov told the Guardian that “Russia is not the leader in this area”.
Irina Privalova, who won gold for Russia in the 400m hurdles at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, told Sports.ru in September that doping investigations against Russia were politically motivated and suggested that extra doping checks were placing its athletes in a “stressful condition” that could cause them to “lose equilibrium”.
Other athletes said Russia was cracking down on doping on its own.
“The attitude toward doping is changing and you can’t not see that changes are occurring here in regards to that,” the Olympic gold medallist Tatyana Lebedeva told Sovsport.ru. “I’m hoping for a more prudent decision by the international federation.”
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