An apology for Russia’s doping scheme is now ready to be issued. Not by the state which ordered the systematic cover-up but by the chemist who helped Russian athletes trick the system.
“I am very sorry to all the clean athletes we cheated,” former Russian anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov said in response to questions from The Associated Press sent through his lawyer.
Similar remorse has not been forthcoming from the Russian authorities, who challenge the legitimacy of Rodchenkov’s confessions and deny any doping was state-sponsored. Rodchenkov, who fled to the United States to expose the elaborate ruse to evade doping tests, claimed the Russians are still “lying and denying.”
Rodchenkov also berated the Court of Arbitration for Sport for overturning lifetime Olympic bans on Russians, saying the ruling gave the impression to clean competitors that “we don’t care about you.” Standing by the veracity of testimony called into question during court hearings, Rodchenkov maintained that athletes were complicit in the doping program after following “strict orders” from the state.
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Rodchenkov, who lives in hiding, denied claims by Russian President Vladimir Putin that his unmasking of the scandal was being controlled by U.S. agencies.
“As usual, Putin is misinformed,” Rodchenkov said in emailed responses to the AP. “I am speaking the truth. No one is influencing me.”
Asked if he was aware of other countries running Russian-style state-sponsored schemes, Rodchenkov replied: “I certainly have suspicions, but it is hard to image any country had our level of deception and high-level support.”
Rodchenkov said he will not be deterred from unmasking further duplicity, despite claiming to fear for his life in the U.S. where he is separated from his family.
“I feel threat, but I feel great support from my lawyers and friends in the United States,” he said. “That is why we are changing everything — my appearance, my coordinates, my communications — as often as possible.”
Evidence from Rodchenkov on the complex urine-swapping ploy at the 2014 Olympics in the Russian resort of Sochi led to the country being prevented from entering a team into the Pyeongchang Games. The only Russians competing currently in South Korea are the 168 who passed the IOC vetting process to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”
But doubts about Rodchenkov’s evidence were raised after he testified last month to CAS judging panels hearing 39 appeal cases by Russians against doping scandals. The disqualifications of 28 Russian athletes from the 2014 Winter Games were overturned because there was found to be insufficient evidence of an anti-doping violation, although they were not completely exonerated and 11 remain disqualified.
“The CAS decision for the 39 athletes was unacceptable,” Rodchenkov said. “The standard for evidence was too high. And CAS should have considered all the evidence Russia withheld from the IOC and WADA, which would only further confirm their guilt. This process sends a clear message to clean athletes, who also deserved due process: we don’t care about you.
“CAS’s disregard for (World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard) McLaren, (IOC disciplinary panel chairman Denis) Oswald and (IOC inquiry commission head Samuel) Schmid was a shame and so disrespectful.”
It was McLaren who initially verified Rodchenkov’s claims that athletes who were using a fast-acting cocktail of steroids had their tainted samples swapped for clean urine that had been stored weeks or months earlier. Rodchenkov claimed state agencies kept a list of athletes on a cocktail dubbed the “Duchess.”
“Russian athletes were absolutely aware of doping program and followed the strict orders from their authorities,” Rodchenkov said. He claimed that “none of the protected athletes are innocent.”
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who was implicated in the doping program while sports minister, told the AP recently that Rodchenkov’s claims “fell apart immediately” under cross-examination at CAS.
“Mutko’s comment is irrelevant and untrue,” Rodchenkov said. “I gave consistent evidence. My diary told the tale, and so did the documents I produced. The full picture of all moving parts and all high-level individuals was tracked — how the scheme was organized and structured. The IOC shouldn’t have rushed the appeal, and should have put the LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) database into evidence, as I am sure some of the athletes had dirty results saved.”
The doping scheme at the 2014 Olympics saw urine swapped out of supposedly tamper-proof sample bottles in a method Rodchenkov said was perfected by Russia’s security service, known as the FSB.
“Clean urine was collected over a long period, since 2013,” Rodchenkov said. “It was stored at Sochi by the FSB. Athletes, their coaches or someone in their entourage was responsible for getting the DCFs (doping control forms) to my office. It ran like clockwork.”
The Russian Anti-Doping Agency has shown a lack of contrition and the failure to acknowledge guilt is delaying its re-admission by WADA.
“Russia is not compliant with the WADA code and the roadmap (to regain compliance),” Rodchenkov said. “That is a more fundamental problem. Russia is not cooperating. They are lying and denying. Until this changes, their Olympic Committee should not be back in the Games.”
Asked if whistleblowers had reached out to him, Rodchenkov replied: “In my current circumstances, it would be impossible for them to try.”
Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports