SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russia supports investigations into allegations of widespread doping in sport, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday, but he said he hoped the focus on Russia was not politically-motivated.
Dozens of Russian sports people risk being excluded from international competitions, including this summer’s Olympics in Rio, after whistle blowers alleged there was a systematic doping programme operating for years in Russian sport.
Asked at a news conference how he viewed calls for samples submitted by competitors at past competitions to be re-tested for banned substances, Putin said: “Positively. If there are any doubts, then they need to be excluded.”
“Sport should be free from any kind of doping. It should be an honest battle.”
Putin said Russia was keenly aware of recent media reports about doping.
That appeared to be a reference to allegations made last week by Grigory Rodchenkov, former head of Russia’s sports anti-doping laboratory, that there was a sophisticated state-backed scheme to cover up the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Putin said Russia would cooperate with investigations into those allegations which are being conducted by the World Anti-Doping Agency, known as WADA.
“But this wave (of investigations into doping) is taking place against a backdrop of politically-motivated restrictions towards our country. I hope that the actions of WADA are not connected in any way to that,” Putin said.
Officials in Moscow have said they feel Russian sport is being unfairly singled out to punish Russia for its stand offs with the West over conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
Putin was speaking on the sidelines of a summit with Asian leaders in the southern city of Sochi, where Russia hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics.
It was during those games, according to an interview Rodchenkov gave to the New York Times, that Russian anti-doping officials ran a clandestine night-time operation to cover up Russian competitors’ positive test results.
Rodchenkov said he and a team of colleagues secretly removed urine samples from the doping lab via a hole cut into a wall, and switched them with clean samples.
Russian track-and-field competitors are currently barred from taking part in the Rio games because of earlier allegations about doping in their sport.
Officials from the governing body of world athletics, the IAAF, will meet within weeks to decide whether that suspension can be lifted in time for Rio, and the Kremlin is lobbying hard so its athletes can take part.
Reporting by Denis Dyomkin; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Vladimir Soldatkin/Andrew Osborn