Olympics

Vladimir Putin Kinda Sorta Acknowledges Russian Doping Crisis

If that

Olympics
AFP/Getty Images
Mar 02, 2017 at 1:52 PM ET

Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged “established and identified cases of doping here” in landmark comments approaching contrition on the subject of his country’s massive doping scandal—while, in the same speech, also casting doubts on the findings of an independent report into said scandal.

While giving a speech in the eastern Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, which will host the 2019 University Games, Putin continued a Russian stance of dissembling the state’s views on the findings of the World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned McLaren Report. While some sporting officials admitted to the New York Times that there was indeed an “institutional conspiracy,” the deputy prime minister (who was recently promoted from the role of sports minister) recently insisted that “Russian sports are among the cleanest in the world” and there was “not a single fact” of evidence.

Putin on Wednesday managed to suggest there was some truth to the allegations, indicating a need for some reform.

“We must pay heed to what this independent commission says, despite the shortcomings in its work,” Putin said, adding: “We must pay heed to its work and its results, and to WADA’s demands, because we need to acknowledge that there are established and identified cases of doping here, and this is a totally unacceptable situation.”

Even with the disclaimer about “shortcomings,” that was enough of a hosanna thrown toward international sport’s governing bodies that WADA reported it was “encouraged” by the commentary.

“This public admission by Russian President Vladimir Putin that their ‘anti-doping system has failed’ is an important step in the right direction,” WADA president Craig Reedie said in a statement.

Unfortunately, that’s not all Putin said. He also cast aspersions on a critical piece of evidence regarding Russia’s doping at the 2014 Winter Games they hosted in Sochi. While former Russian antidoping boss Grigory Rodchenkov detailed to the Times and the McLaren Report the method by which purportedly tamper-proof sample bottles had been opened by Russian intelligence officers, leaving only minimal scratching, Putin tried interjecting doubt into the provenance of those samples from collection to storage, saying there were no initial concerns about their integrity.

“If there was a problem with scratches of whatever kind, this should have been noted in the relevant reports, but there was nothing of this sort,” Putin said, per the Times. “In other words, these samples were stored somewhere, and we cannot be held responsible for the storage conditions.”

That’s more in line with what the country has publicly touted since the reports were released. In fact, Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) president Alexander Zhukov said last week to Channel One Russia that the McLaren Report “does not stand up to scrutiny.”

“As soon as the International Federations began to ask McLaren for specific information regarding when, and on what basis, our athletes can be found guilty of doping, it immediately became clear that the serious evidence in the report does not exist,” he reportedly said.

A Russian Olympian-turned-Senator named Tatyana Lebedeva, who lost two medals to a recent re-test of an old sample, called this a conspiracy of the “Anglo-Saxon lobby.” Another senator, Alexei Pushkov, tweeted, “It is already clear that the McLaren report was a political order.” Consensus, you see, is not existent.

Meanwhile, even after these old samples are re-examined, there’s a question of resolution. To date, the IOC has favored “individual justice over collective responsibility,” and even a recent statement does not address jurisdiction on what to do if the committee is satisfied that a wider program is at work.

In other words, Russia can’t get its story straight, and the IOC isn’t too sure of what to do, either.