LAUSANNE (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Wednesday it had banned for life three Russian bobsledders - Aleksandr Kasyanov, Aleksei Pushkarev and Ilvir Khuzin - over doping allegations related to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
The IOC is re-testing all Russian athletes’ samples from the event after Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow’s discredited anti-doping laboratory, blew the whistle on what he said was a state-sponsored doping program.
Russia denies the allegations, saying it is the victim of a politicized dirty tricks campaign designed to besmirch its reputation and curb its sporting success.
The IOC’s latest move brings the total number of Russian athletes handed life bans to more than 20 this month.
The Kremlin earlier on Wednesday said it would act to protect the rights of Russian athletes, criticizing the bans as part of a broad anti-Russian campaign in the West.
“We strongly reject all allegations that the state may have been involved in any way in forcing doping on Russian athletes,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters.
Rodchenkov, who prosecutors in Russia accuse of forcing sportspeople to resort to doping, was “an odious figure in Russia”, Peskov said.
“Unfortunately, his sponsors and those sheltering him have a tin ear about this... And therefore the situation certainly remains complicated and the interests of our athletes suffer.”
Kasyanov, Pushkarev and Khuzin competed but did not win medals in Sochi, but were part of the team that won a four-man World Cup bobsleigh event last week.
The president of Russia’s bobsleigh federation, Alexander Zubkov, said the trio were “leaders of the national team” and accused international sports authorities of trying to weaken it.
“They will do everything possible for our country to go to the Olympics with a third or fourth-tier line-up,” Zubkov told a news conference in Moscow.
Zubkov was stripped last week of two gold medals from the 2014 Sochi Games and banned from the Olympics over doping. He says he is innocent and has vowed to appeal the bans against Russian bobsledders at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Zubkov’s lifetime ban from the Olympics also prevents him from being accredited to the 2018 winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Zubkov said his absence from Pyeongchang would not affect the Russian bobsleigh team’s performance.
The IOC is set to decide next week on the participation of Russian competitors at next year’s Games.
Editing by Andrew Osborn and Christian Radnedge