MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin dismissed allegations that Russia had run a sophisticated doping programme at the last winter Olympics as treacherous slander on Friday, calling the ex-head of the country’s anti-doping laboratory “a turncoat.”
Two Russian winter sportsmen named as cheats by Grigory Rodchenkov, the former lab chief who has since fled to the United States, also denied wrongdoing, saying the charges were part of a campaign to besmirch the name of Russian sport.
Russia, already battling to overturn a ban on its athletes taking part in this year’s Rio summer Olympics, has been thrown on the defensive after a New York Times report cited Rodchenkov as saying he ran a doping programme at the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics which included at least 15 medal winners.
The allegations complicate Russia’s efforts to distance itself from previous accusations of state-sponsored doping made by an independent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commission, pile pressure on Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, and are likely to make it harder for Moscow to overturn the Rio athletics ban.
“These allegations look absolutely groundless,” Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, told reporters in a conference call on Friday. “They are not substantiated by any trustworthy data, they are not backed by any sort of documents. All this simply looks like slander by a turncoat.”
The Kremlin had not changed its view of Mutko in light of the new accusations, Peskov said when asked. Mutko, who has been in his position since 2008, has called the allegations “nonsense”.
Asked about the prospects of Russian track and field athletes being allowed to compete in Rio, Peskov said: “We hope everything will be fine.”
An International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)taskforce is due to report on Russia’s anti-doping progress on June 17 before the sport’s governing body votes about whether the global ban from track and field events can be lifted to allow Russian athletes to compete in Rio.
The head of the taskforce said he was aware of the New York Times report but could not comment on the allegations.
“Everything that comes to light ... will be carefully reviewed,” Rune Andersen told Reuters by telephone on Friday.
“We are still getting information, we are still meeting people and there is still a month to go. We will deliver our report as scheduled on June 17.”
Two of the sportsmen named in the New York Times report, cross-country skier Alexander Legkov and bobsledder Alexander Zubkov, on Friday rejected the allegations against them as “nonsense and slanderous”.
”We need to take legal action against these people,“ Legkov told Russia’s Match TV. ”All of it (the allegations) is not serious, it is complete rubbish and we need to stop it.
“I performed honestly. My Olympic victory was not accidental,” said the sportsman, who won a gold and silver medal in the Sochi games.
Zubkov was equally dismissive of the allegations in comments to the same channel.
“It is all nonsense and slander directed at Russian sportsmen, who took part in the Olympics. It is unacceptable.”
Additonal reporting by Katya Golubkova and Neil Robinson; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Anna Willard