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Over 1,000 Russian athletes involved in organized doping, McLaren report says

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LONDON (AP) — Russia’s sports reputation was ripped apart again Friday when a new report into systematic doping detailed a vast “institutional conspiracy” that covered more than 1,000 athletes in over 30 sports and corrupted the drug-testing system at the 2012 and 2014 Olympics.

The findings were handed over to the International Olympic Committee, which will be under pressure to take action against the Russians ahead of the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It is impossible to know just how deep and how far back this conspiracy goes,” World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren said. “For years, international sports competitions have unknowingly been hijacked by Russians. Coaches and athletes have been playing on an uneven field. Sports fans and spectators have been deceived.”

McLaren’s second and final report said the conspiracy involved the Russian Sports Ministry, national anti-doping agency and the FSB intelligence service, providing further details of state involvement in a massive program of cheating and cover-ups that operated on an “unprecedented scale” from 2011-15.

The Canadian law professor described the Russian doping program as “a cover-up that evolved over the years from uncontrolled chaos to an institutionalized and disciplined medal-winning strategy and conspiracy.”

The findings confirmed much of the evidence contained in McLaren’s first report issued in July, while expanding the number of athletes involved and the overall scope of the cheating program in the sports powerhouse.

“Over 1,000 Russian athletes competing in summer, winter and Paralympic sport can be identified as being involved in or benefiting from manipulations to conceal positive doping tests,” McLaren said.

The names of those athletes, including 600 summer sports competitors, have been turned over to international federations to pursue disciplinary sanctions, he said.

The 144-page report provided further forensic evidence of manipulation of samples at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, where sealed doping bottles were opened with special tools by intelligence agents and tainted urine was replaced with clean urine to beat the drug-testing system.

Russians who won 15 medals in Sochi had their samples tampered with, including two athletes who won four gold medals, McLaren found.

The report also found the Russian doping program corrupted the 2012 London Olympics on an “unprecedented scale.” While no Russians tested positive at the time of the games, McLaren said the sports ministry gave athletes a “cocktail of steroids … in order to beat the detection thresholds at the London lab.”

The report said 15 Russian medal winners in London had been on a list of athletes who had been protected by Russian officials from testing positive before the games. Ten of those athletes have since had their London medals stripped after their samples were retested.

Declaring that McLaren’s findings detailed “a fundamental attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and on sport in general,” the IOC said it would retest samples of all Russian athletes who competed in Sochi and London.

IOC President Thomas Bach said any athlete or official involved “in such as sophisticated manipulation system” should be banned for life from the Olympics.

The Russian Sports Ministry said it was studying the report and denied the country had any state-sponsored doping system.

McLaren’s first report, issued in July, led WADA to recommend that Russia be excluded from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The IOC rejected calls for an outright ban, allowing international federations to decide which Russians could compete.

The IOC has two separate commissions that will study McLaren’s report and make recommendations to the executive board for sanctions. While a blanket ban on Pyeongchang would seem unlikely, the IOC has indicated it will impose stiff sanctions.

“We now have detailed information which will allow us to take serious decisions, so let’s take them,” WADA President Craig Reedie, who is also an IOC member, told The Associated Press. “If you look at the statements made by the IOC, it seems to be pretty likely they will take the appropriate decisions.”

Other findings in the report include:

— Six Russian athletes who won a total of 21 medals at the Sochi Paralympics had their urine samples tampered with.

— Two female hockey players at the Sochi Olympics had samples that contained male DNA.

— Eight Sochi samples had salt content that was physiologically impossible in a healthy human.

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart called McLaren’s report “another staggering example of how the Olympic movement has been corrupted and clean athletes robbed by Russia’s state-supported doping system.”

Tygart said the Russian Olympic Committee should be suspended and no international sporting events should be held in Russia until its anti-doping program is in line with global rules.

While the report again accused the Russian Sports Ministry, it found no evidence of involvement of the Russian Olympic Committee. The IOC had repeatedly cited the fact that the national Olympic committee was not implicated in defending its decision not to ban the entire Russian team from the Rio Games.

McLaren’s first report set off bitter divisions and infighting in the Olympic movement and those recriminations have dragged on since the Rio Games.

“I find it difficult to understand why were at not on the same team,” he said. “We should all be working together to end doping in sports.”

McLaren opened his investigation earlier this year after Moscow’s former doping lab director, Grigory Rodchenkov, told The New York Times that he and other officials were involved in an organized doping program for Russian athletes. He detailed how tainted samples were replaced with clean urine through a concealed “mouse hole” in the wall of the Sochi lab.

The new report further backs Rodchenkov’s account. McLaren’s investigation found scratches and other marks left on the doping bottles. WADA investigators were able to recreate the method used by the Russians to pry open the sealed bottle caps.

The report also detailed how some Russian samples were diluted with salt or even coffee granules.

“The report has proved without a shadow of a doubt there was organized manipulation of the doping process in Russia,” Reedie said. “Now the challenge is for Russia, first of all to admit that the report is worthy, and second to make sure they change their process so this does not happen again.”

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, the former sports minister in charge during the London and Sochi Olympics, said Russia would take legal action in response to the report. It was not clear what course any legal action might take.

Asked how he would respond to Russian critics, McLaren said: “I would say, ‘read the report.'”

MORE: IOC president wants life bans for Russian cheats

Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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