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LONDON (Reuters) - The husband and wife who blew the whistle on doping in Russian athletics say they have no regrets about speaking up and exposing cheats despite being accused of betraying their own country.
Yulia Stepanova, an international runner who was herself suspended for doping offences, and her husband Vitaly, a former Russian anti-doping agency official, secretly recorded Russian coaches and athletes over almost two years describing how they used performance-enhancing drugs.
Their evidence formed a major part of an investigation that led to Russian athletes being suspended from international competition this month, but came at a high personal cost.
Both have been heavily criticized in their homeland and have spent the past year living abroad but say the sacrifice was worth it.
“In the sense that I believed in something that I thought was right, and I tried," Vitaly told the Sunday Times newspaper in Britain.
"You can have fake values, animal instincts or you can be more human.
“Because if this year has proved anything, it is that sports are run by the wrong people.”
The Stepanovas first took on the role of whistleblowers last year when they featured as witnesses in a television documentary that alleged widespread corruption and drug-taking in Russian athletics.
The pair had been in hiding since but agreed to be interviewed by the Sunday Times. In the interview, the pair said their actions had been vindicated by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Independent Commission's (IC) report into allegations of widespread doping in Russian athletics.
“I knew that I was right, I didn’t need the report to tell me that,” Vitaly told the Sunday Times. “It did make me feel that a naive person can make a difference in this complicated world. I was a spy without a cover, and everyone was looking at me as an idiot, but I could still manage to get this thing going.
“I felt very alone but right now it seems the whole athletics world is discussing what I have been talking about for the past five years. I keep thinking about this. This happened to me. This happened to Yuliya. This is our life. This is our story. A true story. I’ve told it as it is. People should know the true story.”
Vitaly said he believed Russia should be banned from competing at next year's Rio Olympics because of its doping record but doubted that would ever happen.
“Sports officials and politicians in Russia did a lot worse than what athletes were doing, so I think fair punishment for Russian Athletics would be four years. Learn from your mistake, change and come back in four years. See you in Tokyo,” he said.
"(But) I estimate there is a one per cent chance of Russia not being at the Olympics. For this to happen, the International Olympic Committee would have to change and that’s not going to happen in the next six months."
Writing by Julian Linden in Singapore. Editing by Patrick Johnston