When the former director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory turned whistleblower and alleged a complex doping scheme at the Sochi Olympics that involved dozens of doped athletes and Russian officials sneaking into the sample collection room at night to swap out vials of urine, it seemed almost too unbelievable to be true.
But according to a report commissioned two months ago by the World Anti-Doping Agency and released this morning, not only were Grigory Rodchenkov’s claims true, but Russia’s doping scheme was much more widespread than just the Sochi Games, including the involvement of the top of the Russian sporting hierarchy, and even the country’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, the successor to the KGB.
“The surprise result of the Sochi investigation was the revelation of the extent of State oversight and directed control of the Moscow Laboratory in processing,” wrote the author of the report, Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, “and covering up urine samples of Russian athletes from virtually all sports before and after the Sochi Games.”
McLaren’s report found that the system of swapping out urine during the Sochi Games was “a unique standalone approach to meet a special set of circumstances,” but beyond this “lay a greater systematic scheme operated by the Moscow Laboratory for false reporting of positive samples,” allegedly at the direction of the Deputy Minister of Sport, Yuri Nagornykh, appointed by Vladimir Putin in 2010.
Though it required a number of complex steps by lab and governmental officials, at its heart the scheme was actually pretty simple. The WADA-accredited laboratory—its accreditation was revoked in April 2016—would just report positive tests as negative.
In total violation of the WADA International Standard for Laboratories (“ISL”) all analytical positives appearing on the first sample screen at the Moscow laboratory were reported up to the Deputy Minister after the athlete’s name had been added to the information to be supplied. The order would come back from the Deputy Minister “SAVE” or “QUARANTINE”. If the order was a SAVE the laboratory personnel were required to report the sample negative in WADA’s Anti-Doping Management System (“ADAMS”). Then the laboratory personnel would falsify the screen result in the Laboratory Information Management System (“LIMS”) to show a negative laboratory result. The athlete benefited from the cover up determined and directed by the Deputy Minister of Sport and could continue to compete dirty.
This system was used from late 2011 through August 2015, and “affected athletes from all sport disciplines whose urine samples were being analysed by the Moscow Laboratory.” The investigation identified a total of at least 643 positive tests. At least 312 of these were, after the utilization of what McLaren termed the “Disappearing Positive Methodology,” reported negative.
But this system didn’t work at big international sporting events—like the 2013 track & field world championships held in Moscow, or the Sochi Games—hence the scheme to sneak vials of urine out of the supposedly secure sample collection room through a hole in the wall, unseal the supposedly tamper-proof caps, and swap in clean urine that had previously been frozen during PED wash-out periods. This system was workable because of “the efforts of the FSB,” who developed “a method for surreptitiously removing the caps of tamper evident sample bottles.”
McLaren’s report doesn’t lay out what action should be taken as a result of its findings, but there is already a strong movement to have all Russians banned from the Rio Olympics, which begin in just 17 days. Russian track and field athletes already won’t compete, and The New York Times reported on Saturday that “antidoping officials from at least 10 nations and 20 athlete groups” would request that “the entire Russian delegation be barred from the Summer Olympics.”
After the release of McLaren’s report, it is hard to say they don’t have a case. The International Olympic Committee executive board will meet tomorrow to discuss possible sanctions.