Russian sporting officials have dismissed most of the claims of the World Anti-Doping Agency report, claiming that Russian athletics had cleaned up its act since new leadership was appointed to the sport earlier this year.
“The conclusions reached by the commission are in many ways out of date,” Vadim Zelichenok, the head of the Russian Athletics Federation, told reporters in Moscow, just as Wada was suspending the accreditation of Moscow’s drug-testing laboratory. “We don’t have any corruption now, that’s for sure.”
Zelichenok took up the role of acting president in February following the resignation of Valentin Balakhnichev after more than 20 years in the post. He added that he did not think the International Association of Athletics Federations would take the step of ejecting Russian sportsmen from future competitions. “I hope that the moral spirit of [Russian] sportsmen will not be hit by the made-to-order nature of this material. If I am honest, I cannot imagine a situation in which we are barred from the Olympic Games.”
The former head, Balakhnichev, also defended his record and told the Tass news agency that he was going to file cases to defend his reputation at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland because “otherwise we won’t get to the bottom of this situation”. He said he would defend “both my personal interests and the interests of the country”.
The robust defence from Russian athletics came after President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the findings of the Wada report were “rather unfounded” and not backed up by sufficient evidence.
But the reaction among ordinary Russians was more negative. “Russian sport is burning in hell,” ran the headline on one popular Russian sports news site. Sports commentators Oleg Shamonaev and Natalya Maryanchik wrote on the Sport Express news site: “November 9th 2015 was possibly the darkest day in the history of Russian athletics. Never has our country so publicly been accused before the whole world of such deadly sins.”
Others indicated that Russia’s history of huge corruption made the revelations nothing out of the ordinary. “Are you surprised?” the chief editor of the RBC newspaper, Yelizaveta Osetinskaya, wrote on her Facebook page. Coverage of the Wada report in state-owned Russian media has mostly been low-key and included material suggesting that it is a political attack on Russian sport in retaliation for Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis. “This is very advantageous to the Anglo-American bloc. We have to defend our principles and not our interests,” sports blogger Alexander Osin wrote.
The Russian Athletics Federation said it would send a formal response to the IAAF about Wada’s claims, and that head coach Yuri Borzakovsky, a former Olympic 800m champion, will meet Putin in Sochi on Wednesday.
Specific allegations in the Wada report have centred on the head of the Moscow testing lab, Grigory Rodchenkov, who is accused of taking bribes, deliberately destroying thousands of samples from athletes and working closely with Russia’s security services. Tass reported that Rodchenkov had stood down and “took the decision to resign to take all the negatives away with him,” according to Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko.
He denied the allegations. “The independent commission has come to its own understanding, which shows that I suddenly seized the samples and craftily threw them out,” Rodchenkov told the Team Russia 2016 site. “We will carefully study the 325-page report and reply in detail to every point related to our anti-doping centre.”
Wada’s suspension of Moscow’s drug-testing laboratory means it is blocked from carrying out tests of blood or urine samples. The lab can make a legal appeal within 21 days. Nikita Kamaev, the head of RUSADA, Russia’s anti-doping agency, confirmed the suspension but said its laboratories would continue to operate. He also ridiculed allegations that Russian labs were closely monitored by Russia’s feared FSB security service.
“The accusations with the FSB are complete rubbish. People have fevered imaginations. Such statements do not bear criticism,” Kamaev said.
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