Head of Russia’s athletics federation dismisses doping allegations

World Today

Russia Athletics WADA IAAF Investigation A man smokes a cigarette at the entrance of National anti-doping agency, RUSADA in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Acting President of the Russian Athletics Federation Vadim Zelichenok rejected the World Anti-Doping Agency accusations of doping violations on Tuesday and expressed hope that Russian athletes would participate in the upcoming Olympic games and the world cup.

“The most important thing I would like to say and I can say it with full responsibility is that from the moment when in February this year I became an acting president … none of us has ever given a single athlete or coach a carte blanche to take banned substances,” Zelichenok said at a news conference at the federation headquarters in Moscow.

Russia could be banned from international athletics, including the 2016 Olympic Games, after an anti-doping commission report on Monday alleged widespread corruption and collusion that added up to a state-sponsored drugs culture in a sporting superpower.

Zelichenok dismissed the commission’s accusations and said the ban if introduced would also punish athletes who have never used doping.

“I am sorry, I want to ask once again, what does it have to do with (double Olympic pole vault champion Yelena) Isinbayeva? How is she related to this corruption level? It is obvious – it’s her last Olympics, why should we deprive her of this start? Or of a winter world cup? What are these athletes guilty of? They have never had any record of doping violations. They work cleanly and they’ve been checked many times. Why should they be deprived of this opportunity because of the corruption you’ve mentioned and which had taken place several years ago? In any case currently it does not exist,” Zelichenok said.

The commission, set up by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), found a “deeply rooted culture of cheating” in Russian athletics, which it said Russian state security services colluded with, and also identified what it called systemic failures in the global governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

Zelichenok dismissed some of the report’s conclusions and said that “relatively recent data” in the document contained “very few facts.”

He said holding him responsible for doping violations equals to blaming IAAF President Sebastian Coe for corruption in the organisation in the time he was vice president.

“I cannot be held responsible for corruption level at the time when I was not the head of the federation. I am sorry, but then exactly the same way the current president Sebastian Coe can be accused of allowing that level of corruption which as he now admits existed in the time when he was a vice president. Yes, probably there is a certain level of his responsibility there, as well as mine, but I was not the head of the organisation and did not deal with this matter,” Zelichenok said.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said there was no evidence to support the accusations against the Russian Athletics Federation, and that the samples had been destroyed at WADA’s request.

IAAF President Sebastian Coe said he was alarmed and surprised by the scale of the revelations, which come days after the IAAF’s long-time president, Lamine Diack, was accused by the IAAF of concealing a Russian athlete’s doping violations.

But Zelichenok accused the report authors of bias and expressed hope that its release would not affect the athletes’ spirit.

“I hope this will not effect athletes morale and spirits, because they are serious people and to some extent they are used to stressful situations. I think that there is an element of orchestrated reports here, because quite a few things were described ( in the report) in a biased way, for example my situation, in reality it was not like that.”

Asked what would happen if Russian athletes are banned from the participation in the 2016 summer Olympics in Brazil he said: “Speaking honestly – I cannot imagine that, of course it will be an enormous blow. I repeat once again – we hope for common sense of the IAAF ( the International Association of Athletics Federations) council members who first of all must work in the interest of the sport. IAAF constitution says that a federation can be dismissed (from participation in the Olympics) if systematic violations in its anti-doping policy have been uncovered. I don’t see any violations by the federation.”

A decision to suspend Russia could be taken only by the IAAF.

The international police body Interpol said it would coordinate a global investigation into suspected corruption and doping in athletics.

The commission said in its report that the London Olympics in 2012 had in effect been “sabotaged” by the widespread inaction of national anti-doping authorities and the sport’s governing body.

Russia finished second behind the United States in athletics at the 2012 Olympics, with 17 medals, eight of them gold, and has long been one of the chief players in track and field.