November 10, 2017 / 11:40 PM / in a month

Interview: Russian refusal to admit doping could block Olympic path - WADA

(Reuters) - Russia’s refusal to accept responsibility for widespread state-sponsored doping uncovered in the McLaren report could prevent its competitors taking part in the 2018 Winter Olympics, WADA director general Olivier Niggli said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Olivier Niggli, Director General of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) addresses the WADA Symposium in Ecublens, Switzerland, March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

One of the 19 conditions the World Anti-Doping Agency laid out in a ‘Roadmap to Compliance’ requires the authorities responsible for Russia’s anti-doping program, including the Ministry of Sport and National Olympic Committee, to publicly accept the findings of the McLaren investigation.

The report by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren found that more than 1,000 Russian competitors in more than 30 sports were involved in a conspiracy to conceal positive drug tests over a period of five years.

“We have one Roadmap that was agreed by everybody, including our board, and until there is a decision from the WADA board that this Road Map should be changed we are sticking to it,” Niggli told Reuters in a telephone interview from WADA’s Montreal headquarters.

“So yes, we will not consider that they have fulfilled the conditions as long as there are still conditions on the Roadmap that have not been fulfilled. We are not deviating from the agreed Roadmap.”

If Russia remains non-compliant with the WADA Anti-Doping Code it would be another obstacle standing in the way of the country being cleared to compete at next year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Countries and sports federations must be compliant with the WADA Code to be eligible for the Olympics with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) making the ultimate decision on participation.

WADA, which said on Friday it had obtained a database of Russian drug testing that confirms the allegations made in the McLaren report, will present its findings to the IOC before the Olympic Committee’s Dec. 5-7 executive board meeting when it is expected to decide Russia’s fate for February’s Winter Games.

SHIFTING BLAME

WADA warned Russia in September to stop shifting blame for its doping scandals but the threat has not stopped the denials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested on Thursday that allegations of a state-sponsored doping program were an attempt to sow discontent ahead of the country’s presidential elections and retaliation for alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

The head of Russia’s cross-country skiing federation Elena Valbe threw more fuel on the fire on Friday by criticizing the IOC’s decision to ban six Russians for life from the Games, describing it as politically motivated.

”It is certainly unfortunate that we keep having this kind of rhetoric despite all the evidence that is now on the table,“ said Niggli. ”We’ve told the Russians the requirement is there for them to acknowledge the findings of the McLaren report.

“I honestly don’t understand why rather than accepting what happened and saying it and change things and move forward and they have done a lot of good work, they have a problem doing the last part.”

Niggli said the Russia issue will feature prominently on the agenda when WADA heads to Seoul for executive committee and Foundation Board meetings on Nov. 15-16.

Russian compliance will be discussed, Niggli said, but he could not say if WADA would make any recommendations to the IOC.

“Our mandate is to deal with the compliance of RUSADA (the Russian Anti-Doping Agency) but we will certainly have a full discussion about what the picture looks like and where we are in terms of Russia.”

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Gene Cherry

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