Russian president Vladimir Putin briefly acknowledged some of his country's anti-doping shortcomings but also expressed some doubt on the handling of doping suspects' samples.
“Of course, and naturally enough, there is this issue of claims regarding scratches of some kind on some of the test samples,” Putin said. “We do not understand what kind of evidence can we talk about because when we provided the test samples there were no complaints. If there was a problem with scratches of whatever kind, this should have been noted in the relevant reports, but there was nothing of this sort. In other words, these samples were stored somewhere, and we cannot be held responsible for the storage conditions.”
“The main point is that we must pay heed to what this independent commission says, despite the shortcomings in its work,” he added. “We must pay heed to its work and its results, and to WADA’s demands, because we need to acknowledge that there are established and identified cases of doping here, and this is a totally unacceptable situation. What this means is that our existing anti-doping monitoring system has not worked effectively, and this is our fault, and is something we need to admit and address directly. I hope very much that the Investigative Committee will see the needed investigation through to its completion and will identify all those responsible for this situation.”
Putin has been dismissive against the allegations of Russian doping, which includes a report by Richard McLaren that stated 1,000 Russian athletes have been involved in a state-sponsored doping. He pointed to tiny scratches on the sample bottles that investigators concluded were created by Russia's Federal Security Service, a successor to the K.G.B., to switch out the urine by athletes that may trigger a positive test.
“If there was a problem with scratches of whatever kind, this should have been noted in the relevant reports, but there was nothing of this sort. In other words, these samples were stored somewhere, and we cannot be held responsible for the storage conditions,” Putin said.
Dozens of Russian athletes have been implicated in a doping operation at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Last year, the Times reported that former anti-doping lab chief Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov helped tamper with urine samples in Sochi. Cocktails that mixed alcohol and performance-enhancing drugs were also used as ways to cheat. The Federal Security Service broke into sample bottles holding urine. High-ranking officials would take bribes and other means to cover up positive tests by notable elite athletes.
The samples have been stores in Switzerland since 2013 and have been re-examined by the International Olympic Committee. Disciplinary action may follow, which can always be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The status of Russian Olympians for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang remains uncertain.
WADA issued the following statement regarding Putin's comments:
“WADA is encouraged by this sign of progress from the highest political levels in Russia today,” WADA president Sir Craig Reedie said. “Since November 2015, the Agency, UK Anti-Doping and others have been working hard in supporting Russia’s efforts to rebuild a credible anti-doping system,” said Reedie. “This public admission by Russian President Vladimir Putin that their ‘anti-doping system has failed’ is an important step in the right direction.”