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“An institutional conspiracy”

Russian anti-doping official admitted Olympic doping program before her own agency denied it

Russian anti-doping official admitted Olympic doping program before her own agency denied it

This story has been updated with comment from The New York Times.

For the first time, a Russian official appears to have admitted to a systematic doping program involving top Olympic athletes – although her comments were quickly followed by claims that the remarks were
taken out of context.

The New York Times quoted Anna Antseliovich, the acting director general of Russia’s anti-doping agency RUSADA, on Tuesday as saying that there had been “an institutional conspiracy” to conceal doping by Russian athletes – although she maintained that senior officials were not involved.

But RUSADA said on Wednesday that Antseliovich had been misquoted and her words “distorted” – wrongly giving the impression that the agency accepted that systematic doping had occurred in Russia.

“We would like to stress that RUSADA has no authority to admit to or deny any such fact, since the investigation of the case is handled by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation,” RUSADA said in a statement. “In addition, we would like to stress that RUSADA firmly believes that every accused athlete has unalienable right to challenge the accusations.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated official denials of any state involvement in doping, saying Russian authorities would look into whether Antseliovich had actually made the comments before responding further, Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported.

Russian officials have long denied the existence of any doping programs, despite a confession by the former director of a Russian anti-doping lab, and a subsequent independent report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency that found evidence of state-sponsored doping on an unprecedented scale. 

The report by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren – the second part of which was released in December – found evidence of a “systematic and centralized cover-up” of positive drugs tests that benefited more than 1,000 Russian athletes across 30 sports.

It found that the scheme involved Russian athletes, anti-doping and sports officials, and Russia’s Federal Security Service – the successor to the KGB. Their efforts allegedly corrupted results at elite tournaments including the 2012 London Summer Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

But Russian officials contacted by The New York Times maintained that any doping was not state-sponsored, with the newspaper noting that their definition of the Russian state was restricted to President Vladimir Putin and his closest associates.

New York Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said the newspaper stood by the story.

“We are confident in the accuracy of our story, which quotes Ms. Antseliovich fairly, accurately and extensively,” she told VICE News.

The reporter behind the story, Rebecca Ruiz, also responded on Twitter, saying that the quotes were accurate and that Russian officials had told her they were no longer disputing that the doping programs existed, “only that those schemes were state-sponsored.”

She said that another senior Russian sports official quoted in the story, Vitaly Smirnov, had confirmed to her that this was correct.

McLaren’s report found that officials as high up as the Deputy Minister of Sport were involved in the scheme, but he has not uncovered evidence that it ran any higher.

In his marathon end-of-year press conference last week, Putin appeared to blame doping on key whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of a Moscow anti-doping laboratory, alleging that he had personally introduced the problem to Russia and turned doping into his “personal business.”

The president acknowledged that Russia had “problems with doping,” but said it had not created the problem, and called for sport to be rid of politics.

Responding to Antseliovich’s reported comments, McLaren told The New York Times that he was pleased that Russian officials appeared to have accepted his findings. He said their acknowledgment may be driven by a desire to prevent deeper investigation into the scope of the conspiracy.

“It’s damage control,” he told the newspaper. “There are a number of different labels you can put on the facts, and they take a different view of government, but it’s a bit of a vocabulary game.”

After the publication of McLaren’s report, the International Olympic Committee said it had opened disciplinary proceedings against 28 Russian athletes who competed in Sochi. Ten Russian medalists from London 2012 have already been stripped of their medals.

Russia finished fourth at the medals table in London – the same position they ended up in Rio, one rung lower than their efforts in Beijing and Athens, and two lower than in Sydney and Atlanta.

But in Sochi they topped the medals table with 13 golds – a feat they had not achieved since 20 years earlier, in Lillehammer. Their 33 medals made for the biggest Winter Olympics haul ever, although it was also Russia’s largest ever team at a Winter Games. As for prior Winter Olympics, Russia finished 11th in 2010, fourth in 2006, fifth in 2002, and third in 1998.

Cover: ASSOCIATED PRESS

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