By James Ellingworth
AP Sports Writer
The World Anti-Doping Agency alleged Wednesday that Russian athletes and government agencies continued to obstruct and deceive drug testers, even as Russia tries to regain its place in Olympic track and field.
In a report published two days before a key vote on whether to readmit Russia’s track team for the Rio Olympics, WADA said testers have been intimidated by officials from Russia’s FSB security service and that packages containing samples have been tampered with by Russian customs services.
Athletes have repeatedly provided false information about their whereabouts and evaded drug testers at competitions, WADA said. In one case, an unnamed athlete in track and field attempted to give a fake urine sample using “a container inserted inside her body” but was discovered and tested positive when her real urine was examined.
WADA also says it received reports that athletes were “freely visiting” a “laboratory … with centrifuge and other analytical equipment” during a Russian national wrestling championship. WADA last year claimed secret laboratories could have been used in Russia to screen doped athletes who would fail independent tests, so they could then be kept away from drug testers and avoid bans.
Seven months on from a damning WADA commission report which alleged widespread state-sponsored doping in track and field, the Russian government has admitted failings by its athletes and sports officials, but continues to strenuously deny there has been any state backing for dopers.
The latest allegations relate to the period since the Russian anti-doping agency was suspended in November over accusations it covered up drug use. Since then testing in Russia has been led by foreign authorities, with Britain’s UK Anti-Doping taking the lead.
Wednesday’s WADA report says doping control officers were “intimidated” when trying to find athletes who said they were in so-called closed cities hosting military facilities, and alleges “armed FSB agents threatening DCOs with expulsion from the country.”
When samples were sent abroad for testing, laboratories said the packages had been tampered with by Russian customs officers, WADA said. In such cases, “sample bottles (are) often not with corresponding chain of custody form,” WADA said. That could potentially cause a case to collapse if an athlete convinces a tribunal that samples were mishandled.
Athletes also appear to be dodging tests by withdrawing from competitions at short notice when drug testers are present. In one case an athlete ran away from testers at a competition, and another “exited the stadium” during her own race, WADA said. At a competition in race walking, where top Russians have repeatedly failed drug tests, 15 athletes “did not start, withdrew or were disqualified,” including Olympic medalists.
While UK Anti-Doping has conducted 455 tests since it started work in Russia in February, samples could not be collected in 73 cases for reasons including “athlete not available,” WADA said.
WADA said in May that the number of tests conducted in Russia over the preceding six months had fallen by more than half against the same period a year earlier, when the Russian agency was still controlling the tests. UKAD has significantly less testing capacity than the Russian agency did because of a limited number of staff and delays to payments from the Russian authorities.
Earlier Wednesday, Russia ramped up its campaign for its track and field team to be allowed to compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, contending it had met the conditions for reinstatement and saying it would be “obvious discrimination” to exclude athletes who have been not linked to doping.
Two days before the IAAF decides whether to maintain or lift its ban on Russia’s track federation, a group of Russian athletes sent an open letter to IOC President Thomas Bach and a top Russian Olympic official issued a four-page statement appealing for the country’s “clean” athletes to be cleared to compete at the Rio Games.
A blanket ban on all of Russia’s track and field athletes would be unjust to those who have never been implicated in doping and have passed a certain number of tests, the Russians argued.
The IAAF council meets Friday in Vienna to decide whether to uphold the ban or allow the Russians to compete in Rio.
The International Olympic Committee has scheduled a summit of sports leaders next Tuesday to consider Russia’s eligibility.
Separately, Gennady Alyoshin, the Russian Olympic Committee’s point man for reforms at the Russian track federation, said Russia had met most of the 44 criteria set by the IAAF to be eligible for reinstatement, including changes in the federation, sanctions against dopers and change in the environment.
Meanwhile, the athletes’ commission of the European Olympic Committees issued a statement Wednesday urging the IOC to keep drug cheats out of the games but suggesting that athletes who can show they are clean should be allowed to compete.
“We urge the IOC to take the strongest practicable action to defend clean athletes and ensure honest competition at the Olympic Games,” the statement said.
The European body said athletes deemed “at risk” would have to show they are clean through an “international and independently proven” record of drug tests.