MOSCOW: Vladimir Putin has called on Russian government officials to step up the country’s anti-doping efforts as it emerged another major athlete has been caught up in the scandal affecting domestic sport.
The Russian President’s comments at a cabinet meeting followed revelations that athletes including tennis superstar Maria Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, a substance that increases blood flow and had been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency from January 1.
World swimming champion Yulia Efimova has also been provisionally suspended on suspicion of breaking anti-doping rules. The 23-year-old breaststroke specialist, who has won four world titles and an Olympic bronze medal at London 2012, faces a lengthy ban if found guilty as it would be her second career doping offence.
In a statement, the Russian Swimming Federation said it had received documents from the International Aquatics Federation stating that Efimova was suspended “in connection with a possible breach of anti-doping rules.”
Putin, according to Russian news agency Tass, said: “It’s obvious that our national anti-doping legislation needs serious improvement. I am asking the government to work on the question of raising the effectiveness of the national fight against doping.”
Last week the International Association of Athletics Federations promised to make a decision on Russia’s participation at the 2016 Olympic Games in May.
The IAAF imposed an indefinite ban on ARAF after the country was accused by an independent Wada commission of operating a state-sponsored doping programme. The IAAF has said that the suspension will only be lifted when its inspection team has been persuaded that the necessary reforms have been made.
When the scandal first emerged in November, some Russian officials rejected the allegations while news media suggested a Western conspiracy to deny Russia – a traditionally strong athletics nation – a place at Rio 2016. However, Putin told the cabinet that “it’s not necessary to politicise anything or advance any conspiracy theory.”
He added: “Our sports leadership demonstrated a lack of understanding of the relevance of these issues, did not update on time the relevant lists (of banned substances) that were presented [and] did not inform athletes and coaches in time about the decision of the World Anti-Doping Agency to ban several substances.”