Russia Cries Foul as Doping Ruling Threatens Olympic Involvement

(Bloomberg) -- Russia reacted angrily after the World Anti-Doping Agency refused to certify that its athletes comply with rules outlawing banned substances, putting at risk the country’s involvement in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The agency, also known as WADA, ruled after a meeting of top officials in Seoul Thursday that Russia’s anti-doping body should remain blacklisted following an investigation that exposed a vast program of drugs cheating, including at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The International Olympic Committee is expected to decide on Dec. 5 on possible penalties against Russia for the 2018 Games that take place in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February.

WADA’s decision “has nothing to do with sport or the fight against doping,” Igor Lebedev, deputy speaker of the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, said Thursday on Twitter. “It’s all about big politics.”

The issue is adding to tensions between Russia and the U.S., where investigations into alleged Kremlin interference in the 2016 presidential election have stymied President Donald Trump’s campaign pledges to improve relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. last month of using the question of Russian participation in the Olympics as a means to influence presidential elections next March, in which he’s expected to seek a record fourth term.

Putin personally oversaw the $50 billion preparations for the Sochi Games, the most expensive in Olympic history. He said last month that the IOC could try to force Russian athletes to compete in PyeongChang under a neutral flag, which he called “humiliating.” Russia, which avoided a blanket ban at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, though its track-and-field athletes were barred, has said its team will only compete in South Korea under the national flag.

‘We’ll React’

The WADA ruling is a “road to nowhere,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko said, according to the state-run Tass news service. Russian athletes will be able to take part in the Winter Games if the IOC acts in line with its own regulations, he said.

“Western manipulators are abusing their influence over international organizations and playing on our nerves” by leaving Russian participation in doubt, Mikhail Degtyarev, head of the sports, youth and tourism committee in the Duma, said, according to the Sport Express newspaper. “They forget that we’ll react to any pressure and especially unfair treatment like Russians do, we’ll rally together.”

WADA has demanded that Russia “publicly accept” the findings of an independent commission, which concluded that the scheme to obscure positive dope-test results involved about 1,000 Russian athletes from 2011-2015. It also called on Russian authorities to hand over all electronic files and stored urine samples from the national anti-doping agency’s laboratory in Moscow, something officials have refused to do.

Doping Program

“These two demands are obviously political,” Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov said in Seoul, Tass reported. WADA’s actions were like a “trial,” while Russia had fulfilled all the agency’s criteria, he said.

The commission led by Richard McLaren found last year that Russia developed the doping program after its athletes won just three gold medals at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. The team finished in 11th place in the medal table, its worst performance since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia came first in the medal table in Sochi with 33 medals including 13 golds. However, the IOC this month stripped two Russian athletes of one gold and four silver medals won in Sochi after ruling that they’d violated anti-doping rules, and said that cases against other competitors would be heard over the next few weeks.

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