Dis­trust, anger grip Rus­sian sports ahead of key dop­ing vote

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - SPORTS - JAMES ELLINGWORTH THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

ST. PETERS­BURG, Rus­sia — As it edges closer to a ban from the Win­ter Olympics, the Rus­sian sports world is a bit­ter place.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions into dop­ing haven’t en­cour­aged Rus­sian ath­letes to speak out about abuses. In­stead, there is a pub­lic hunt for whistle­blow­ers, or “traitors to the mother­land,” as cross-coun­try ski fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Ye­lena Valbe calls them.

Mean­while, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has claimed the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee — which will make the fi­nal rul­ing on Rus­sia’s el­i­gi­bil­ity — is be­ing ma­nip­u­lated by shad­owy U.S. in­ter­ests in­tent on us­ing dop­ing scan­dals to dis­grace his gov­ern­ment ahead of elec­tions in March.

Ahead of that IOC rul­ing, Rus­sian of­fi­cials face two days of World Anti-Dop­ing Agency meet­ings this week which will help de­ter­mine Rus­sia’s Olympic fu­ture.

For­mally, the is­sue on the ta­ble is the sta­tus of Rus­sia’s drug-test­ing agency, not Olympic par­tic­i­pa­tion.

WADA re­stored most of the Rus­sian agency’s key pow­ers in June and will rule this week on whether to read­mit it fully. The stick­ing point isn’t the agency’s per­for­mance, but the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment and sports or­ga­ni­za­tions’ re­luc­tance to ac­cept any re­spon­si­bil­ity for what WADA con­sid­ers a vast dop­ing scheme and coverup, in­clud­ing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Since the gov­ern­ment funds RUSADA and the sports bod­ies are rep­re­sented on its board, they have to con­vince WADA they’re wor­thy trus­tees.

WADA goes into its sum­mit with a stronger hand af­ter re­veal­ing Fri­day that it now has what it be­lieves to be the data­base of test­ing re­sults from the Moscow drug-test­ing lab­o­ra­tory from 2012-15, the pe­riod when the al­leged coverup scheme was at its height. That could con­firm ear­lier whistle­blower ev­i­dence or lead to even more cases against ath­letes.

WADA’s two key de­mands are that Rus­sia ac­cepts the find­ings of WADA in­ves­ti­ga­tor Richard McLaren’s re­port from last year and that it re­leases a batch of seized urine sam­ples from the Moscow lab­o­ra­tory. Rus­sia re­fused to do ei­ther. “It’s im­pos­si­ble to agree with (the re­port), be­cause the re­port con­tains a lot of dis­crep­an­cies,” Sports Min­is­ter Pavel Kolobkov said Mon­day, adding “it will be hard for us” to con­vince WADA to re­in­state the Rus­sian agency.

Ac­cept­ing McLaren’s find­ings would mean aban­don­ing a Krem­lin line, stated reg­u­larly and ve­he­mently, that Rus­sia has never had any state in­volve­ment in dop­ing.

McLaren’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion al­leged var­i­ous of­fi­cials from the Sports Min­istry over­saw a dop­ing coverup, ve­to­ing pun­ish­ment for “pro­tected” star ath­letes. Most of the min­istry of­fi­cials named in McLaren’s re­port qui­etly re­signed or were dis­missed last year, but thenS­ports Min­is­ter Vi­taly Mutko was pro­moted to deputy prime min­is­ter and con­tin­ues to over­see prepa­ra­tions for next year’s soc­cer World Cup in Rus­sia.

Rus­sian re­la­tions with the IOC have soured af­ter it start- ed ban­ning Rus­sian ath­letes for dop­ing of­fences from the Sochi Olympics. Six have been banned so far, in­clud­ing two medal­lists , and verdicts are ex­pected within days on sev­eral more.

Still, IOC Pres­i­dent Thomas Bach has long been sup­port­ive of Rus­sia and said this month it was “un­ac­cept­able” to de­mand a blan­ket ban for Rus­sia “be­fore due process.”

Last year, Rus­sia was vi­ciously crit­i­cal of WADA but re­mained on good terms with the IOC, which ruled out a blan­ket ban from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and passed the de­ci­sion to in­di­vid­ual sports fed­er­a­tions. Only track and field and weightlift­ing im­posed team-wide sanc­tions. This year, Rus­sia’s tone to­ward the IOC is less warm.

“Come over to my coun­try and try to take (my medals),” Rus­sian bob­sled­der and fed­eral law­maker Alexei Vo­evoda taunted IOC dis­ci­plinary panel head De­nis Oswald in Rus­sian me­dia on Mon­day.

Pre­vi­ous dop­ing whistle­blow­ers have left Rus­sia cit­ing their per­sonal safety, but only af­ter com­ing for­ward. The IOC bans have sparked a witch-hunt in Rus­sian win­ter sports, with a cross-coun­try skier and a biathlon coach both hav­ing to is­sue state­ments deny­ing they’ve worked with WADA af­ter be­ing ac­cused by for­mer col­leagues.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

A woman walks from the entrance of Rus­sia’s Na­tional anti-dop­ing agency, RUSADA in Moscow in 2015. World Anti-Dop­ing Agency in­ves­ti­ga­tions into dop­ing haven’t en­cour­aged Rus­sian ath­letes to speak out about abuses, but in­stead, there is a pub­lic hunt for whistle­blow­ers, as Tues­day, Rus­sia seems to move closer to a ban from the up­com­ing Win­ter Olympics.

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