KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The Olympic Games is staring into the credibility abyss after a damning report from the World Anti-Doping Agency accused Russia – one of the world’s most powerful sporting nations – of a state-sponsored cover-up of doping in all major sports.
Canadian Professor Richard McLaren had been commissioned by WADA after revelations that Russian sports and intelligence security officials covered up dope checks at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014.
The claims emanated from an initial interview in the New York Times by Grigory Rodchenkov , former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory who had fled to the US.
McLaren’s report generated a chart identifying how no fewer than 30 sports – most notably athletics and then weightlifting – had seen 580 negative dope tests “processed” through the Moscow laboratory with what he described as a ‘disappearing positive methodology.’
Along the way McLaren pointed the finger of conscious overall operational responsibility at Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko (who is also a member of the FIFA and UEFA governing committees and president of football’s 2018 World Cup organising committee).
However McLaren made no recommendations about action on any level, throwing the entire responsibility of deciding what happens next to the International Olympic Copmmittee.
Russia is currently trying to persuade Thomas Bach, the German president of the IOC, to allow its athletes to circumvent a worldwide suspension ordered by the world athletics federation (the International Association of Athletics Federations).
However the uncompromising nature of McLaren’s report will strengthen weekend calls by the United States and Canadian anti-doping agencies for Russia’s entire team to be barred from the Rio de Janeiro Games next month.
His report followed a major analysis of the Russian state cover-up identified by an earlier report from former WADA president Richard Pound. This inquiry, in its turn, had been prompted by several German television documentaries led by investigative reporter Hajo Seppelt.
The three key findings of McLaren’s report were:
1, The Moscow Laboratory operated, for the protection of doped Russian athletes, within a State-dictated failsafe system, described in the report as the Disappearing Positive Methodology;
2, The Sochi Laboratory operated a unique sample swapping methodology to enable doped Russian athletes to compete at the Games;
3, The Ministry of Sport directed, controlled and oversaw the manipulation of athlete’s analytical results or sample swapping, with the active participation and assistance of the Federal Security Bureau, the Centre of Sports Preparation of National Teams of Russia , and both Moscow and Sochi laboratories.
McLaren said he was “supremely confident” in his findings, adding: “We’ve only considered evidence beyond reasonable doubt.” The allegations by Rodchenkov had been supported by all the forensic, laboratory and data evidence.
Rodchenkov had claimed that the Russian secret service (FSB) had worked out how to open and re-seal the supposedly tamper-proof bottles used for storing urine samples so the contents could be replaced with ‘clean’ urine. To do so officers used “a mousehole” in the wall between the official Sochi collection offices and a covert laboratory.
McLaren sent a random amount of samples from “protected Russian athletes” at Sochi 2014 stored by the anti-doping laboratory in Lausanne to a lab in London to see if they had scratch marks around the necks of the bottles that would indicate they had been manipulated.
McLaren said: “All 100pc of the bottles had been scratched” although this would “not have been visible to the untrained eye”.
The ‘disappearing sample methodology’ involved Rodchenkov’s lab, the Russian anti-doping agency, the CSP and Russian Sports Ministry.
The report says Rodchenkov would receive a “save” or “quarantine” code message from the ministry to determine whether he simply lost an athlete’s sample or correctly processed it.
Altogether, 643 samples from doped athletes vanished between 2012 and 2015, with more than 30 different sports benefiting.
McLaren’s report directly names deputy sports minister Yuri Nagornykh and chief anti-doping advisor Natalia Zhelanova as being central to this scheme, but also says it was “inconceivable” that Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko was unaware of what was going on.
Mutko had submitted to an interview with McLaren who described the experience as “singularly unhelpful.”
The second finding, which McLaren refers to as the “sample swapping methodology”, relates to the clandestine operation that Rodchenkov ran with the FSB at Sochi’s anti-doping laboratory.
This involved smuggling Russian samples which would almost certainly have failed a drugs test out of the lab through a “mouse hole” in the wall and swapping them for samples with clean urine stored in a secret room on the other side of the wall.
Rodchenkov would sometimes add table salt to the urine to hide the manipulation and then an FSB agent would reseal the bottle.
McLaren said he could not confirm the number of medal winners but said it was several.
Regarding his final finding, that the Russian sports ministry and the FSB, the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB, had been heavily involved in all of these schemes, McLaren described their role as “actively directing, controlling and overseeing” the endemic doping.
In a subsequent press conference McLaren said the tight timeline to report, of only 57 days, meant the findings represented only “a slice” of what had been happening but he had no doubt that the doping and cover-up system extended right across all sports.
This will inevitably prompt questions about Russia’s suitability to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018 and Mutko’s high-profile organisational role.