Evidence is mounting that Russia is willing to do just about anything it takes to get an edge in international sports competitions.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the premier international watchdog for monitoring athletes’ use of illicit substances, released a report Friday accusing Moscow of running an elaborate state-sponsored doping scheme involving more than 1,000 athletes from dozens of different sports. The investigation found evidence of urine sample swapping and cover-ups operating on an “unprecedented scale” between 2011 and 2015, including during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
“It is impossible to know just how deep and how far back this conspiracy goes,” Richard McLaren, the author of the report, told reporters at a press conference in London. “For years, international sports competitions have unknowingly been hijacked by Russians. Coaches and athletes have been playing on an uneven field. Sports fans and spectators have been deceived. It’s time that this stops.”
The investigation indicates that the urine samples of 12 Russian medalists at the Sochi Winter Olympics, where Russia won 33 medals, showed signs of tampering. That was typically detected through DNA inconsistencies in the urine or scratches on the inside of the cap of the sample. And 15 medalists during the 2012 London Olympics, where Russia won 72 medals, had samples that had been tampered with.
"It was a cover-up that evolved from uncontrolled chaos to an institutionalized and disciplined medal-winning conspiracy," McLaren explained. The investigation claims that the scheme’s participants included the Russian Sports Ministry, the FSB intelligence service, and, somewhat ironically, the country’s anti-doping agency.
Friday’s damning report is the second part of an investigation. The first part came out in July, and found such compelling evidence of Russian doping that more than 100 Russian athletes were ultimately barred from the 2016 Rio Olympics. WADA had called for a complete ban on Russia at the time, but the International Olympic Committee declined to take the step.
The earlier report described how during the Sochi Games, Russian athletes had their urine samples snuck out of labs through “mouse holes,” opened up using a technique that allows the seal to stay intact, replaced with clean urine, and then placed back in the lab. The report claimed that the process was overseen by Russian secret service agents disguised as sewer engineers.
Russia is incredibly invested in Olympics competitions, both financially and culturally. Back in 2014, Russia spent $51 billion putting on the Sochi Winter Olympics — over $10 billion more than China spent on the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In the runup to Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged in some striking micromanagement, once firing a top Russian Olympics Committee official because a ski jump complex was behind schedule.
Putin said "there can be no place for doping in sport” after Russian athletes were banned from Rio, but there’s been no response so far to the new report. McLaren said there’s no evidence Putin knew of the doping scheme.
The BBC dug up some of the most noteworthy findings from the new report, which includes hundreds of pieces of evidence:
— At the Sochi Games, two Russian female ice hockey players had male urine samples.
— A total of 15 Russian medal winners at London 2012 were implicated [10 medals have since been taken away].
— The samples of 12 medal-winning athletes at Sochi 2014 had evidence of tampering.
— Six winners of 21 Paralympic medals at Sochi had their samples tampered with.
— Emails were found asking for instructions from the Russian Ministry of Sport on what to do with a positive sample — save or quarantine?
— Spreadsheets were found containing lists of athletes whose samples had been saved.
— A clean urine bank was kept in Moscow.
— A cocktail of drugs with a very short detection window known as the "Duchess" was developed to assist athletes in evading doping.
— Salt and instant coffee granules were added to clean urine samples to match the appearance of the positive samples.
— Three samples at Sochi had salt readings that were physiologically impossible.
McLaren declined to comment on whether Russia should be banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But the report ensures that the International Olympic Committee will face renewed international pressure to crack down on the country’s highly sophisticated doping practices.