LONDON: Russia hijacked international sport by using more than 1,000 athletes in an “institutional conspiracy” to win medals at the Sochi and London Olympics and other global events, a top investigator said Friday.
Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, who has previously accused Russia of “state-sponsored” cheating, said in a new report for the World Anti-Doping Agency that he had confirmed the switching of samples at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 and that salt and coffee were used to manipulate samples.
More than 1,000 athletes in the summer and winter Olympics and Paralympics “can be identified as being involved in or benefiting from manipulations to conceal positive testing”, his report said.
Information on 695 Olympic athletes had been sent to sports federations. “Well known and elite level athletes” were among competitors whose tests were “falsified”.
“A cover-up that evolved over the years from uncontrolled chaos to an institutionalised and disciplined medal-winning strategy and conspiracy,” McLaren said as he introduced his report.
Russia’s sports ministry again denied state backing for doping. But the report said the campaign that started about 2011 came under official control from 2012 under then sports minister Vitaly Mutko amid fears that the cheating would be detected.
“An institutional conspiracy existed across summer and winter sports athletes who participated with Russian officials within the ministry of sport and its infrastructure,” said McLaren.
“These activities were supported by senior Russian officials, including the minister and deputy minister of sport.”
– Corrupted Olympics –
About 30 sports including football were involved, officials added. But doping was rife in Russian athletics and weightlifting.
Mutko, who has denied any involvement, was not personally named. He was barred from going to the Rio Olympics by the International Olympic Committee in August but has since been promoted to deputy prime minister by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
McLaren told AFP in an interview that there was no evidence that Putin knew of the doping.
“For years, international sports competitions have unknowingly been hijacked by the Russians,” he told a press conference however.
“Coaches and athletes have been competing on an uneven field. Sports fans and spectators have been deceived.”
McLaren said Russian officials could be trusted “but they need to reform themselves”.
The system was “refined” in the buildup to the 2012 London Olympics and then further for the 2013 Universiade in the Russian city of Kazan, the World Athletics Championships in Moscow, also in 2013, and particularly for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Russia won 24 golds, 26 silvers and 32 bronze medals in London with no failed tests at the time.
“The Russian team corrupted the London Games on an unprecedented scale,” McLaren said.
Whistleblower Grigory Rodchenko, who was an agent for the FSB secret service as well as head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, told investigators how he watered down some samples and added salt and powdered coffee to others to coverup doping failures.
The report also told how an FSB agent disguised as a sewer engineer got into the Sochi Winter Olympics doping laboratory to switch bottles. Tiny scratches on the inside the bottles gave away the cheating.
McLaren’s first report, released in July, led to more than 110 Russian athletes being banned from the Rio Olympics but also caused a major rift between the IOC and WADA.
His latest report is a huge new blow to Russia, which is already battling to get back into the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) because of an earlier inquiry.
Russia has said the earlier McLaren report lacked detail and needed more investigation. There are many doubters over Russian efforts however.
The IAAF and WADA have kept up their suspensions of Russia.
The IOC this week extended its sanctions over the Russian doping. It has two inquiries into Russian sport and doping at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Following the McLaren report, the IOC said all 254 Russian urine samples from Sochi would be reexamined and that it had extended its inquiries to cover the 2012 London Olympics.
Athletes from Russia and other East European states have dominated the list of cheats caught in new tests on 1,243 samples taken at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics.
IOC medical director Richard Budgett said Wednesday that the tests are not finished with more doping failures to be reported in coming weeks.
The IAAF is also re-analysing samples taken from world championships. It said three Russian doping failures have been found from the 2007 world championships in Osaka.