Olympics: Russia`s doping denial threatens reforms – experts

Russia stubbornly says there was no state role in the country`s doping scandal.

Moscow: Russia stubbornly says there was no state role in the country`s doping scandal and many experts say that denial threatens the reforms it needs to get back into the sporting system.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision not to impose a blanket ban on Russia has divided world sport`s leadership. 

Because of doping sanctions, Russia will have its smallest Olympic team -- 271 athletes -- in more than a century. And Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko is banned from going to the Rio Games.
But experts say it will still take time to restore trust in the Russian system and the government attitude has not helped.

Dick Pound, first president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) who headed a 2015 inquiry into doping in Russian athletics, said he hoped the Olympic ban on some Russian athletes would prompt reforms. But he stressed that a full ban could have been a catalyst for more compelling change.
"I think a blanket ban would have sent a stronger message and brought about faster change," he told AFP. 

Last month Moscow announced the creation of an independent commission to clean up sport. Mutko, who has faced down scandals big and small since assuming the post in 2008, reiterated Russia`s support for anti-doping policies during a visit to UNESCO this week. 

But they continue to publicly deny the conclusions of WADA`s independent investigator, Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, that doping fraud at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was organised by the sports ministry and the Russian secret service. 

"I don`t know how they fully deny this," Olympic historian Bill Mallon told AFP, adding that evidence of official involvement in doping was "pretty strong."

McLaren has said it had been shown "without reasonable doubt."

"It would be like the East Germans back in 1985 trying to deny it, while we all knew they were doping," said Mallon, an American.

Despite the public stance, WADA president Craig Reedie told the IOC this week that Russia has confessed its sins.

"I`m delighted to record that Russia has admitted that the two commission reports are true and that they have a specific problem - this has come from very high political levels in Russia," he said. Russia now faces a daunting task to restore trust in its anti-doping system and getting international accreditation for its anti-doping agency, RUSADA, and its Moscow laboratory. 

A handful of officials including Mutko`s anti-doping advisor, Natalya Zhelanova, were suspended after the McLaren report. But Russia`s top sports officials have remained in their posts. A scandal of this magnitude would have led to criminal charges and resignations in many European countries.

The Kremlin has vowed to suspend officials implicated in the McLaren report but insisted there is no hard evidence against Mutko.

Its new anti-doping commission head is a veteran establishment figure: Vitaly Smirnov, 81, an honorary Russian Olympic Committee president who served on the 1980 Moscow Games organising commitee. 

Pound said the new body`s ability to change the situation "depends on how independent the committee will, in fact, be."

Most of the commission members are long-standing sports officials like Mikhail Butov, general secretary of the Russian athletics federation, or powerful insiders like television boss Konstantin Ernst, who produced the opening ceremony of the Sochi Games.

Russia has left the door ajar to recruiting foreigners to the commission, but none have been included so far. 

"I think it would be better if they got fresh people," Mallon said, stressing that Smirnov had been present when "both the Soviet and Russian regime had some problems" with doping.
"I think it would look better and people would trust it more."

Smirnov, while pledging to fight doping, has denied any state responsibility in the scandal. 
"There wasn`t, isn`t and will never be a state system that supports doping," he said. 
"Russia`s official position is that there is no room for doping in sport."

Mallon said that as more evidence emerges in WADA`s investigation, it should issue ultimatums to Russia : "You`ve got to do this, this and this. We don`t want Smirnov, we don`t want Mutko."
"You have to keep these guys out who have been bad players since the beginning," he added.