The German television station that first put a spotlight on Russia’s widespread doping scandal says embattled Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko was directly involved in covering up cheating and avoiding bans.
The allegations come as the IAAF, track and field’s international governing body, prepares to decide on June 17 if Russian athletes will be banned from next month’s Summer Olympics in Rio.
In a documentary on Russian doping to air on German television on June 8, ARD will charge Mutko with preventing a failed drug test by a top-flight Russian soccer player from being made public as well as allowing several track-and-field coaches — banned for life for their involvement in doping — to continue training Russian athletes.
ARD says it has documents that show Mutko kept the soccer player’s positive drug test a secret and video footage of banned coaches working.
Mutko rejected the German broadcaster’s charges. “The aim of this film is obvious: to influence the [IAAF] committee on the reinstatement of Russian athletics on the eve of its meeting,” Mutko told Interfax on June 8.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the same day that the Russian government would treat the charges by ARD as “absolute slander” until someone presented “comprehensible proof or confirmation” of the allegations.
Mutko has been Russia’s sports minister since 2008 but came under heavy scrutiny when the first ARD documentary — The Doping Secret: How Russia Creates Champions — was broadcast in December 2014, placing international attention on Russian athletes and sports officials.
The WADA investigative commission’s chairman, Dick Pound (left), said at a press conference at the time that it would be “impossible” for Mutko not to have known about Russia’s doping program.
Pressure on Mutko mounted when the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) publicized the results in November 2015 of a lengthy investigation charging Russia with utilizing a systemic and widespread sports-doping program.
The report said the country held a “deeply rooted culture of cheating.”
The WADA investigative commission’s chairman, Dick Pound, said at a press conference at the time that it would be “impossible” for Mutko not to have known about Russia’s doping program.
Mutko — who led Russia’s successful bid for soccer’s 2018 World Cup and is a member of the powerful FIFA Council — holds great influence in the Russian sports world with his international connections and personal friendship with President Vladimir Putin, who places tremendous importance on Russia having a strong international sports profile.
The latest ARD report condemning Mutko and his country’s doping of athletes comes amid a new charm offensive by Russian sports officials in a last-ditch attempt to have the ban on its track-and-field athletes reversed in time for the Rio games and to avoid the prohibition of any of its other sports federations from the Olympics.
Under the direction of recently hired Western PR firm Burson Marsteller, sports officials in Moscow have made qualified apologies for past doping offenses and pledged good behavior going forward, including plans to massively test its Olympic athletes and the setting up of anti-doping educational programs in schools to “reform social attitudes.”
But Hajo Seppelt, the man behind the ARD documentaries, said on June 6 that his latest documentary came to the conclusion that “there is a big difference between what the Russians say they are going to do [about the doping issue] and what they actually do.”
And a gray cloud continues to hover over Russian sport, with dozens of its athletes in a multitude of disciplines failing doping tests this year alone — a category in which Russia is currently leading the world.
INFOGRAPHIC: World Doping Champions (Click Image)
The latest to be penalized: on June 8, the International Tennis Federation banned Maria Sharapova from competing for two years for failing a meldonium test at the Australian Open in January. On the same day, Mutko announced that champion hammer thrower Kirill Ikonnikov had received a lifetime ban for his use of performance-enhancing drugs.
And Moscow’s early attempts to blame unnamed foreign powers for attacking Russian sports for political reasons is a card it is finding increasingly difficult to use — as many of those charging Russia with foul play are former Russian officials.
Grigory Rodchenkov, who served as the head of Russia’s drug-testing lab until the WADA report forced his resignation in December, has in recent weeks given a detailed account of how Russian athletes used drugs and how officials were able to fraudulently keep their athletes from failing doping tests.
Rodchenkov, who is now living in an unidentified location in the United States for fear of his own safety, has since been disparaged and discredited by his former colleagues and a series of Russian officials.
But Rodchenkov’s allegations of high-level cheating involving secret-service agents, hidden holes in the wall, and tampered urine samples have grabbed the attention of many important international figures, including International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who has promised to investigate all charges and to take action, if necessary, against any and all wrongdoers before the Rio Olympics.
Now it seems that a reeling Russia trying to prove it has changed its ways will take another strong shot with the broadcast of Seppelt’s new ARD report.
He said his latest documentary will show that “In reality, everything [regarding the doping issue in Russia] is getting worse instead of better.”