Grigory Rodchenkov

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Grigory Rodchenkov, Russian doping whistleblower, still lives in fear

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His head covered in a black balaclava, adjusting dark goggles obscuring his eyes, Grigory Rodchenkov grows anxious if any part of his face can be seen.

Exposing Russia’s state-sponsorship doping scheme forced Rodchenkov into hiding in the United States five years ago. Revealing his current identity is still too risky for the chemist turned whistleblower, even in a video interview from an undisclosed location.

“It’s my security measures because I have physical threats to be assassinated,” Rodchenkov told The Associated Press. “And I want to live.”

Evidence from Rodchenkov that has already turned Vladimir Putin‘s Russia into international sporting outcasts continues to be used in cases against athletes along with data from his former laboratory in Moscow.

“Putin, he is quite logical. He separates opposition in two ways — enemies … betrayers,” Rodchenkov said. “I am falling in the betrayers’ category and all betrayers should be beheaded, cut, dead. So there is no doubt that he wants me to be dead.”

It has not deterred him from documenting his life story in “The Rodchenkov Affair: How I Brought Down Putin’s Secret Doping Empire,” revisiting how he conspired with his country to corrupt sports and then tries to show contrition by turning star witness.

Rodchenkov was the brains behind the Duchess cocktail of anabolic steroids and cover-up that turned Russia into a medal machine at the home Olympics in Sochi in 2014, topping the standings with 13 gold medals before disqualifications.

Russian spies ensured the Duchess would not be detected in doping tests as FSB agents used a hole in the wall of the Sochi laboratory to swap out the dirty samples with clean urine at night.

“For me, it was the end of doping control,” Rodchenkov said. “If we can do it, why others cannot?”

The doping cover-up extended beyond the Winter Olympics, into the Summer Games, Paralympics, world track and field championships and every major sport.

Some Russians were barred from competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games and 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games as the International Olympic Committee remains opposed to blanket bans on countries.

So Russian athletes can still compete on the international stage if they can show they are clean, despite a four-year ban from major international sporting events being imposed on the nation last year for a fresh cover-up, including tampering with data gained from Rodchenkov’s former lab in Moscow.

“Sport is a part of Putin’s politics and showing to the West how good Russia is,” Rodchenkov said. “You cannot trust Russia. You cannot trust the certification authorities, and (anti-doping) laboratories cannot be allowed to be restored within the foreseeable future.”

Especially now, according to Rodchenkov, following constitutional changes allowing Putin to run for two more six-year terms, in 2024 and 2030,

“Until 2036,” Rodchenkov said, “no trust.”

But why now trust Rodchenkov as he presents a virtuous image at odds with his deep collusion with the state to cheat?

“When you are laboratory director and you have 50 employees and you are reporting to your high ups at the ministry, I could not even think about morals,” he said, dismissing concerns about any long-term damage to the health of athletes he allowed to be pumped with steroids.

“It’s extremely debatable and still ungrounded,” he said. “We see the generation who is now in the end of their lives of 70s and 80s, which are still … in a good physical condition after steroid programs.”

Go back four decades and Rodchenkov was starting out in a Soviet system learning how to manipulate doping controls.

“I had honestly, I’m sorry, but I had huge feelings of accomplishment,” he said. “Those athletes I helped to (win) were extremely talented and I could not understand, with the coach, how he or she may lose to others. The only explanation was doping. Then using some programs, we won gold medals. Honestly it was like leveling the field.

“Again, ‘morals’ is maybe vocabulary from American life but not from Soviet and Russian. In (the) Soviet (Union) it was the Soviet moral, in Russia there is no morals.”

It helps when the athletes are compliant.

“This is the huge problem of the militarization of Russia sport,” Rodchenkov said. “They follow orders, they are disciplined but they cannot tell the truth because they have given the oath to the Russian state and consider foreigners as potential enemies or even actual enemies. That’s why in Russia there are three ways – lying, cheating and denying.”

Rodchenkov has had to convince the world he has shed those ways and is coming clean. More of the cases he helped to cover-up could soon come to light after the World Anti-Doping Agency shared data – of samples tested up to 2015, and tampering that continued into 2019 – that was retrieved from the Moscow testing lab at the heart of the state-backed doping program.

“The problem is that the people from outside cannot understand what is going on inside sports,” he said. “Only whistleblowers could do that. But in corrupted countries you have to escape and we need to be preserved.”

For Rodchenkov that means living a life constantly in fear of being recognized as happened on a train in the US.

“It was a student,” he recalled. “I told him, `Forget you are meeting me, yes it’s me, don’t tell anyone.’ … I disappeared again.”

MORE: Russia track and field faces expulsion if it misses deadline

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World Anti-Doping Agency urges U.S. Senate to revise Rodchenkov Act

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The World Anti-Doping Agency sent a letter to U.S. Senators explaining how a bill designed to deter drug cheats in international sports would, instead, “have the unintended consequences of shattering the anti-doping system” if it is passed without changes.

The document, obtained by The Associated Press, was sent this week at the request of a Senate committee that is holding a hearing Wednesday in which it will hear testimony about the Rodchenkov Act.

The House passed the bill last year, and WADA has hired a lobbying firm to engage Congress for changes in the legislation triggered by a Russia cheating scheme that has shaken the global Olympic movement for the past five years.

WADA director general Olivier Niggli told AP that “WADA favors governments using their legislative powers to protect clean athletes in the fight against doping and this Act is no exception.”

The six-page WADA letter does, in fact, say the agency “supports the overall objectives of the legislation.” The letter also goes into extensive detail about provisions it says would create a “chaotic World Anti-Doping system with no legal predictability.”

The measure, named after the Moscow lab director who blew the whistle on Russia’s cheating at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, calls for fines of up to $1 million and prison sentences of up to 10 years for those who participate in schemes designed to influence international sports competitions through doping. (Individual athletes who get caught doping would not be subject to punishment under the law.)

It would also allow the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to obtain information collected by federal investigators, which could help in prosecuting anti-doping cases.

The WADA letter said the agency agrees with the information-sharing language.

But there is also a long list of concerns, notably over the “extraterritorial” jurisdiction the bill proposes — a clause that would allow U.S. authorities to pursue those who perpetuate doping schemes at international events in which Americans are involved as athletes, sponsors or broadcasters. Many U.S. corruption laws, including those used to prosecute FIFA executives in the soccer-bidding scandal, include similar extraterritorial jurisdiction.

“The effort to criminalize doping acts under U.S. law and then apply that law extraterritorially will shatter the international harmonization of rules that is critical to advancing clean sport,” WADA wrote in the memo.

It predicted that if the U.S. passes the law, “other nations will follow suit and inevitably competing jurisdiction on the same set of facts will result in confusion, weaken the system, and compromise the quest for clean sport.”

The athlete-advocacy group FairSport sent out a news release responding to the WADA document, giving a point-by-point rebuttal of the clauses with which the agency disagrees.

In that statement, Rodchenkov’s attorney, Jim Walden, said similar laws with extraterritorial jurisdiction weren’t always popular “with corrupt nations.”

The Rodchenkov act “will do the same in the fight against doping fraud deployed by gangster states who hijack international sports competitions,” Walden said.

At meetings last November, WADA officials took criticism for lobbying efforts on the bill, which has bipartisan support in Congress.

“If we, as payers to you, use those funds to undermine legislation, then that’s not going to be a cooperative and effective way to go forward,” said Kendel Ehrlich, the U.S. government representative on WADA’s foundation board.

The U.S. government provides about $2.5 million annually to WADA.

In its letter to the Senators, WADA also defended its action in the long-running doping case involving Russia.

WADA recently ruled on the latest development in the Russia saga: proof that the country had tampered with the data it was supposed to turn over as part of a deal to be reinstated. WADA set a framework that would ban the Russian flag and its dignitaries from the upcoming Tokyo Games while allowing for some of the country’s athletes to compete.

Russia appealed that case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and on Tuesday, WADA asked the hearing to be made public.

WADA said it was urging a “go-slow” approach to any legislation “authored in revulsion to Russia’s cheating.”

“Such a move would jeopardize the international system, could undercut the foundation upon which WADA sanctioned Russia; and send shockwaves through the system precisely at a time when clean sport needs a strong and globally recognized system,” the letter said.

Niggli wanted it made clear that WADA’s intent is not to scuttle the bill. But, he told AP, “currently, there are elements of the Act that could backfire and be counter-productive for the protection of clean sport around the world.”

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Vladimir Putin: U.S. agencies manipulated Russia doping testimony

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin accused U.S. agencies of manipulating evidence from the main whistleblower on doping at the Sochi Olympics.

Putin said Thursday that former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov — who is under witness protection after fleeing to the United States last year — is “under the control” of the American agencies, including the FBI.

Rodchenkov being in the United States “is not a positive for us, it’s a negative. It means he’s under the control of American special services,” Putin said. “What are they doing with him there? Are they giving him some kind of substances so that he says what’s required?”

Putin added that Rodchenkov should never have been appointed to run Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory in the first place.

“It was a mistake on the part of those who did it, and I know who did it,” he said, but didn’t name names or say they should be punished.

Testimony from Rodchenkov played a key role in International Olympic Committee investigations which led last week to Russian athletes being required to compete under a neutral flag at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Rodchenkov said he was ordered by the sports ministry to oversee steroid use by Russian athletes in many sports, and to cover up their doping by falsifying test results and swapping dirty samples for clean ones.

The IOC’s decision to trust Rodchenkov’s evidence is “nonsense,” Putin said, portraying the scientist as mentally unstable and referring repeatedly to Russian criminal investigations against him.

The Russian government has denied it had any involvement in doping, particularly around the Sochi Olympics, which is seen as a key prestige project.

Russian officials have previously said they accept some drug use occurred, but on a much smaller scale than alleged, and that Rodchenkov tricked some clean Russian athletes into taking banned substances by claiming they were legitimate dietary supplements.

Putin also reiterated previous claims that Russian doping scandals are an attempt to smear the government as he runs for re-election in March, a month after the PyeongChang Olympics.

“The scandal is being created ahead of the domestic political calendar,” he said. “Whatever people say, I’m convinced, I just know this is the case.”

Russian sports officials and athletes across numerous sports have said they will accept the IOC demand that they compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”

That means they will compete in neutral-colored uniforms under the Olympic flag, with the Olympic anthem played at medal ceremonies instead of the Russian anthem.

However, the IOC says the ban could be lifted in time for Russian athletes to march at the Closing Ceremony under their own flag, if Russia complies with IOC conditions.

An IOC commission found no evidence that Russia’s “highest state authority” was involved in doping, but that sports ministry officials knew of the doping scheme.

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