Russia sends response to doping data tampering claims

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              FILE - In this file photo dated Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, Russian National Anti-doping Agency RUSADA head Yuri Ganus speaks during a news conference in Moscow, Russia. Ganus said Tuesday Oct. 8, 2019, he expects “significant restrictions” on the whole of Russian sport over alleged data tampering. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, FILE)
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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia has sent a formal response to the World Anti-Doping Agency after signs of tampering were found in data it handed over regarding past performance-enhancing drug cases.

Russia had until Wednesday to explain to the World Anti-Doping Agency why data it handed over appears to have been doctored, with some key evidence missing or altered.

Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov said the response addressed 31 questions from WADA and was compiled with the help of “independent Russian experts in the field of information technology.”

“We are confident that we’ve met all the requirements,” Kolobkov said. “We’re ready to continue cooperating, to put this situation behind us quickly and do everything so that there are no more questions for the Russian side.”

Kolobkov didn’t say how Russia’s response explained the apparent tampering. Talks are planned with “experts and interested parties” before the end of the month ahead of a WADA meeting in November, he said.

WADA confirmed receiving the response and said it would analyze the claims “as quickly as practicable.”

If WADA rules there’s been yet another Russian doping cover-up — of data which was supposedly secure in the Russian state’s custody — new rules could mean tougher sanctions than ever before.

“What decision will WADA make? It will be strict. This is an issue of recidivism, a repeat, and it’s about using the same methods again,” Yuri Ganus, CEO of the Russian anti-doping agency, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

“It’s actually a big problem, and obviously it’s to be expected. If the (Russian) sports authorities can’t find some answers, and I struggle to imagine what those answers could be, I can envision that the decision will be fairly strict.”

The data handover in January in a sealed-off section of the Moscow lab was meant to clear up years of doping cases. Russia’s anti-doping agency, known as RUSADA, was reinstated in return, against protests from some Western athletes.

The head of World Athletics’ taskforce for Russia, Rune Andersen, has said the data doesn’t match an earlier copy WADA obtained from a whistleblower.

Andersen wrote last month that the data shows signs that particular athletes’ test results were selectively edited, rather than the random changes which could result from a corrupted file.

Tampering would be a breach of trust and could taint the entire data archive so that it’s hard to prosecute cases even for athletes whose files appear untouched.

If WADA decides foul play was involved, its first step will likely be to re-suspend RUSADA, which the rules require as a pretext to further sanctions.

“There will be significant restrictions on athletes, restrictions on the whole sports jurisdiction, on hosting competitions on Russian territory, and the role of officials in sports administration,” Ganus said. “The worst thing is that it’s now in its fifth year and it will continue for quite some time.”

Possible further sanctions range from monitoring programs to a ban on hosting international sports events or even exclusion from the Olympics. However, that could run into resistance from the International Olympic Committee, which has signaled its reluctance to repeat its punishment of Russia at the 2018 Winter Olympics. On that occasion, Russia was officially banned but allowed to send a smaller, officially neutral squad.

WADA’s new powers are based on a code of rules passed last year and they haven’t been tested in court.

Ganus is keen to stress that his agency had no custody of the data, and couldn’t have tampered with it. The data was held at the lab, which has never been a RUSADA facility, and sealed off by Russian law enforcement.

Russia has been accused of hacking before in connection with doping. Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI alleged in an indictment that Russian military intelligence officers had hacked WADA, the Court of Arbitration for Sport and an IOC official in 2016.

After WADA receives Russia’s explanation regarding the data tampering, its compliance and review committee will study the evidence before making a recommendation to the executive board, which meets Nov. 4 in Poland.