By Michael Mainville
MOSCOW, RUSSIA (AFP) — Russia on Thursday hit back at a proposed four-year ban on the country’s athletes, denouncing accusations of a doping cover-up as a politically motivated attempt to block its athletes from competing.
A committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency on Monday made a bombshell recommendation for Russia to be barred from all sporting competition for four years.
It accused Moscow of falsifying laboratory data handed over to investigators as part of a probe into the doping allegations that have plagued Russia for years.
If WADA chiefs adopt the committee’s recommendations at a meeting in Paris on December 9, Russia faces exclusion from key sporting events including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on Thursday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused other nations of pursuing doping claims so they don’t have to face off against Russian athletes.
“This is about the politicisation of this issue in order to squeeze Russia out. There is a term for such a thing: unfair competition. This is a battle without rules, maybe even already a war,” she said.
“The issue of doping… focuses exclusively on Russia, the problems of other countries are not discussed at all.”
The scandal has tainted Russia’s sporting reputation since the revelation of large-scale state-sponsored doping aimed at improving its medal performance at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Russian track and field athletes were barred from competing at the Rio Olympics in 2016 although Russians competing in other events were allowed to take part.
The ban was widened to include all events at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, though Russian competitors who could prove they were above suspicion were able to compete as neutrals under the Olympic flag.
– No Russian flag in Tokyo? –
The scandal has also been a blow to President Vladimir Putin, who has made sporting success a plank of boosting the country’s prestige.
Russia’s Olympic Committee said Thursday it would do all it could to ensure Russian athletes take part in the 2020 Games.
“We will do everything in our power to ensure our team is in Tokyo under the Russian flag,” news agency RIA Novosti quoted committee chief Stanislav Pozdnyakov as saying.
He said there were no “objective obstacles” to the “vast majority” of Russian athletes fully participating in the Olympics.
“There is no discussion about participating under a neutral flag,” Pozdnyakov said.
Monday’s call from the WADA review panel came after Russian authorities were accused of falsifying laboratory data handed over to investigators in January.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said it backs “the toughest sanctions against those responsible for this manipulation,” while cautioning against blanket sanctions that would punish the innocent.
The head of Russia’s RUSADA anti-doping agency, Yury Ganus, who was appointed in a bid to restore confidence, has blamed unnamed officials for interfering with the data, which were being held by criminal investigators, not RUSADA.
He told AFP on Tuesday that he expected WADA to uphold the recommended ban.
If Russia challenges an eventual suspension the case will go to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, whose decision will be binding on sports bodies including the IOC.
The Kremlin on Wednesday expressed its regret over the ban proposal and said Moscow was open to cooperation with international authorities.
Russian athletes have reacted with shock and dismay, with many urging WADA to reject the proposed ban.
© Agence France-Presse