The Kremlin dismissed allegations that Russia had run a sophisticated doping program at the last winter Olympics as treacherous slander on Friday, calling the ex-head of the country’s doping laboratory “a turncoat.”
President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly claimed that his country is under attack from the West in an ‘information war’. He’s been particularly sensitive to “politicised” accusations that it used bribery to win the rights to host the FIFA soccer World Cup in 2018. His spokesman has made similar comments about disclosures in the Panama Papers highlighting the extraordinary wealth amassed by a professional cellist who is godfather to one of Putin’s daughters.
Russia, already battling to overturn a ban on its athletes taking part in this year’s Rio summer Olympics, has been thrown on the defensive after a New York Times report cited Grigory Rodchenkov, the ex-head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory, as saying he ran a doping program at the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics which included at least 15 medal winners. Rodchenkov, who had been named in previous accusations of state-sponsored doping made by an independent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commission, fled to the U.S. after two of his associates died unexpectedly in February, less than three months after the WADA report.
The new allegations pile pressure on Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, and are likely to make it harder for Moscow to overturn the Rio athletics ban.
“These allegations look absolutely groundless,” Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, told reporters in a conference call on Friday. “They are not substantiated by any trustworthy data, they are not backed by any sort of documents. All this simply looks like slander by a turncoat.”
The Kremlin had not changed its view of Mutko in light of the new accusations, Peskov said when asked. Mutko, who has been in his position since 2008, has called the allegations “nonsense.”
Asked about the prospects of Russian track and field athletes being allowed to compete in Rio, Peskov said: “We hope everything will be fine.”
Two of the sportsmen named in the New York Times report, cross-country skier Alexander Legkov and bobsledder Alexander Zubkov, on Friday rejected the allegations against them as “nonsense and slanderous.”
“We need to take legal action against these people,” Legkov told Russia’s Match TV. “All of it (the allegations) is frivolous, it is complete garbage and we need to stop it.
It’s the second major scandal to hit the International Olympic Committee this week, after revelations of irregular payments by representatives of Tokyo’s successful bid to host the summer 2020 games. French prosecutors confirmed earlier this week that the Tokyo bid committee had transferred at least $1.5 million to a secret account linked to the son of Lamine Diack, the disgraced former world track and field president.