MONTREAL (Reuters) - World sport is facing an unprecedented drug crisis as yet another in a string of doping bombshells dropped at the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) foundation board meeting on Thursday, shocking officials.
WADA, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and athletes were all left stunned by an explosive New York Times report that detailed widespread doping by Russia at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, including 15 medal winners.
It was all part of a dark day for anti-doping crusaders as Russia was once again in the spotlight along with Kenya, after the African nation famous for its middle and long-distance runners was declared non-compliant and now faces a possible Olympic ban.
In recent months, WADA has appeared to be losing ground in the war on performance-enhancing drugs and the agency suffered another setback on Thursday when the New York Times story landed smack in the middle of its board meeting.
Alarm bells were ringing as WADA members absorbed details of a Times report that quoted Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s drug testing laboratory, recounting dozens of cover-ups and the disposal of tainted samples.
Reuters was unable to verify details of the Times report.
Even Dick Pound, the Canadian lawyer who helped set up the WADA and served two terms as its president, was left surprised by the scope and sophistication of the cover-up, labeling it the worst he has ever seen.
“He (Rodchenkov) knows where all the bodies are buried,” Pound told Reuters. “This (Times report) is as bad as we’ve seen assuming what Rodchenkov says is true and he does have the knowledge of what was going on. That’s pretty bad.
“He knew what was going on, it’s not just ‘she said, he said’.”
Late last year, an independent commission headed by Pound uncovered evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia that led to the country being banned from all athletics competition.
The scandal deepened on Sunday when whistleblower Vitaly Stepanov claimed in an interview with investigative program “60 Minutes” that he had taped recordings of Rodchenkov telling him at least four Russian gold medalists in Sochi were using steroids.
“It shows the system can be broken rather simply,” outgoing WADA director general David Howman told Reuters. “It is something I have worried about for a long time.
“It looks on the surface there might have been quite a big ‘get away’. The real question is the way this is a systematic program.
“That’s come out in the report we got from our independent commission. This just confirms it and takes it a couple of steps further which is hugely worrying.”
With the Rio Olympics just three months away, the IOC must quickly deal with the escalating controversy if it is to restore confidence in the Summer Games in particular and sport in general.
It is clear that athlete confidence has plunged to all-time low. Beckie Scott, chair of the athletes commission, made an emotional plea to the foundation board urging WADA to use its influence to keep Russian drug cheats out of the Rio Games.
“We acknowledge that WADA does not have jurisdiction over the Olympic Games,” said Scott, who won bronze at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games but was upgraded to gold after the two Russians who finished ahead of her were found guilty of doping.
“WADA does have, however, influence and clean athletes of the world propose that you use that influence with respect to Rio and Game beyond.
“Athletes strongly feel that if there cannot be a guarantee that athletes there from Russia are clean and not involved in doping activity that they should not be there.”
Even in the face of mounting evidence, Russian officials continued to deny any wrong doing with sports minister Vitaly Mutko dismissing the New York Times report as nonsense, according to the TASS news agency.
“I believe these guys, they are outstanding athletes, the charges are nonsense,” Mutko, who has previously said doping checks at Sochi were under the control of international experts, was quoted as saying. “The charges against them are groundless. We will study this article and see how to react.”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes