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Doping report shows depths of Russia cover-up

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The Russians were running out of time. Experts from the World Anti-Doping Agency were heading to Moscow to finally receive the trove of data they’d been seeking for two years.

Instead of getting ready to hand it over, Russian authorities stayed busy in a round-the-clock endeavor to keep changing, deleting and manipulating the data. Granular details of the plot are sprinkled throughout WADA’s previously confidential 89-page report, obtained by The Associated Press.

Among the most brazen projects, the report says, was the rewriting of memos to make it look as though the man who exposed the plot was leveraging the Russian doping scheme to line his own pockets. The rewrites were also designed to eliminate any record that one of Russia’s own key defense witnesses in the case had done anything wrong.

“Treat all the files the same, and you can take your Bonus home,” said one of the doctored messages, purported to have been written by whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov to another worker, Timofey Sobolevsky, at the now-infamous Moscow antidoping lab.

In fact, the original messages were to Sobolevsky from a key Russian witness and purveyor of the plot, Evgeny Kudryavtsev. Those simply said “OK,” and “Tim, we will soon be giving it.” Kudryavtsev has called Rodchenkov, who lives in hiding in the United States, a liar. Rodchenkov was not part of the original exchange.

The doctored message was one of thousands of manipulations that were concocted long after Russia had agreed to hand over the data in its original form. In fact, Russia was doctoring files as late as Jan. 16, 2019, while WADA’s team was already in the building, one day away from leaving Moscow with the now-sullied data in tow.

The details of the deception, portrayed by WADA investigators as the “smoking gun” in the Russian manipulation case, are included in the report, which spells out the ways Russia reworked data that was supposed to be used to prosecute doping cases stemming from its state-run system to win Olympic medals.

Sprinkled throughout the 89 pages are a number of explanations the Russians gave for the discrepancies — among them, system malfunctions and routine space-clearing operations that occurred at the beginning of every year — each of which is incisively batted down by the WADA team of investigators, who went to painstaking lengths to conduct forensic research on 23 million megabytes of data.

Regarding the forged messages, the investigators drew a forceful conclusion: The Russians were so focused on altering the messages that made them look the worst that they scoured through 11,227 of the exchanges to “identify and delete 25 highly inculpatory messages.”

“They therefore planted fabricated evidence into the 2019 … database that would allow them to blame those discrepancies on Dr Rodchenkov, Dr Sobolevsky” and another worker, the report said. “Such bad faith is indeed stunning, and … it provides a lens through which the explanations offered by the Russian authorities for the following subsequent events should be observed.”

On Tuesday, the day after the release of WADA’s conclusions — along with the recommendation to ban the Russian flag and its dignitaries, but not all of its athletes, from the next two Olympics — the reactions out of Russia were varied.

Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called it the latest attempt among Western efforts “to put Russia in a defensive position accused of pretty much everything in every sphere of international life.”

But Yuri Ganus, the head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, said the sanctions “were to be expected, and they’re justified.”

RUSADA was basically the only Russian actor that came off relatively unscathed in the WADA report, in large part because it has been totally revamped in the wake of the scandal.

But as the report spells out in alarming detail, the government was busy trying to cover its tracks and tell new stories right up until WADA packed up the data and took it away.

WADA’s executive committee is scheduled to review the report on Dec. 9 and decide whether to accept the sanctions recommended by the compliance review committee.

Russia should get 4-year Olympic ban, WADA committee recommends

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MONTREAL (AP) — Russian athletes will have a chance to compete at next year’s Olympics, but their flag would not fly in Tokyo if the World Anti-Doping Agency approves a recommendation it received Monday.

The WADA compliance review committee proposed a four-year ban on Russia hosting major events but stopped short of asking for the blanket ban on Russian athletes that is among the possible sanctions for the most egregious violations.

The WADA executive committee will rule on the recommendations Dec. 9.

The proposal follows a lengthy investigation into lab data handed over by Russia in January. Giving the data to WADA was part of a deal to lift a suspension of the Russian anti-doping agency, and the data was supposed to be used to expose past cover-ups of drug use by Russian athletes.

But in a damning admission, WADA said the Russians were tampering with the data as late as January 2019 — days before they handed over the data that had originally been due on Dec. 31, 2018.

Among the alterations, WADA says, was the planting of evidence in an attempt to implicate the lab’s former director, Grigory Rodchenkov. The planted evidence claimed Rodchenkov, who blew the whistle on the Russian doping plot, did so as part of a scheme to extort money from athletes.

Under the proposal, Russians would operate under a system similar to what was done in 2018, when 168 athletes went to PyeongChang and competed under the banner “Olympic Athlete from Russia.” The system would be in place in Tokyo, at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and at world championships in a number of sports.

It would fall in line with what IOC president Thomas Bach has supported since the Russian doping scandal emerged in 2016.

“Our principle is that the guilty ones must be punished as hard as possible and the innocent ones must be protected,” Bach said in London last week.

But the lack of a blanket ban left some incensed, wondering what it might possibly take for WADA to invoke its harshest sanction.

“It’s just, ‘Here we go again,’” said Rob Koehler, a former WADA executive who now leads the athletes’ group Global Athlete. “Russians still compete, their athletes still go home with medals and Russia trumps everyone.”

The data handover was the latest development in a scandal that began with a government-hatched scheme to allow Russian athletes to dope at the Sochi Games without getting caught. As part of the elaborate scheme, authorities at the anti-doping lab used a small hole drilled in the wall to make dark-of-night exchanges of previously stored clean samples from the athletes with the dirty samples they gave after competition.

The WADA recommendations could have serious implications for European soccer body UEFA if accepted in full by the executive committee.

The recommendations include stripping Russia of sports events already awarded “unless it is legally or practically impossible to do so.”

Other major events scheduled in Russia during the four-year period include the 2023 men’s world championship in ice hockey, already awarded to St. Petersburg, and the first World Cup races at the Alpine ski resort of Rosa Khutor since the Sochi Olympics.

But the main focus will be Russia’s presence at the Olympics, where it has not fielded a full team since 2014 — in Sochi, where the scandal began in earnest.

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Sun Yang defends failure to take drug test

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MONTREUX, Switzerland (AP) — One of China’s biggest Olympic stars fought Friday for his right to compete at the Tokyo Games during a rare public hearing that turned combative at times, as champion swimmer Sun Yang defended his refusal to complete a doping test last year.

During a 10-hour session marred at times by translation problems, Sun maintained that inspectors drawing blood and urine samples failed to have proper identification papers.

The interpretation issues in both English and Chinese brought a halt to the landmark Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing several times, frustrating lawyers for both sides during Sun’s opening cross-examination. Sun’s mother later took the stand, at one point admonishing lawyers, “I haven’t finished yet.”

One lawyer said he could not tell if Sun was being evasive or if it was simply a case of misunderstood translation.

The case stems from the three-time Olympic champion’s refusal to cooperate with three anti-doping officials during a random test that became a confrontation in the early morning hours at his home in China in September 2018.

“During inspection, I realized they don’t have any authorized papers to prove their identification,” Sun testified Friday.

A World Anti-Doping Agency expert disputed Sun’s account, saying the inspectors’ credentials were in order.

A tribunal appointed by the swimming world body FINA initially gave Sun only a caution, but WADA appealed the case to CAS. Its judges are not expected to hand down a verdict until next year. If the ruling goes against him, Sun could be banned from the 2020 Olympics.

The 6-foot, 7-inch Sun became a star in China as the country’s first man to win an Olympic title in swimming. He won the 400m and 1500m freestyles at the 2012 London Olympics. He added gold in the 200m in Rio.

The 27-year-old Sun, who also has 11 world championships, has been a polarizing figure in the sport.

In Rio, Australian rival Mack Horton called him a drug cheat as anger built over a three-month ban for his positive test in 2014 that some considered too lenient. The ban was initially kept secret by Chinese authorities and FINA, which some accused of appearing to protect one of its biggest names in a key market.

Sun provoked more anger among rivals by winning two world titles in July while the CAS appeal was pending. Medalists Horton and Brit Duncan Scott refused to stand on the podium with him in Gwangju, South Korea.

The translation problems at Friday’s hearing began almost from the start, and it was unclear at times how much of the testimony and questions were understood, with both judges and lawyers expressing frustration.

At one point, Sun’s Geneva-based lawyer, Ian Meakin, apologized for asking his client leading questions, saying: “The translation was so bad.”

The translation was so poor that “you couldn’t tell if (Sun) was monumentally evasive or couldn’t understand the questions,” said Richard Young, a lawyer for WADA.

When the hearing resumed after a break, judging panel president Franco Frattini also apologized for its poor quality.

The court noted that Sun’s team selected the translators, who were replaced at a lunch break by a WADA staff member. Lawyers were told an accurate transcript of the morning sessions would later be provided to all parties.

Sun detailed how he and his entourage had doubted the qualifications of the officials conducting the doping test at his home.

“How are you able to trust them?” said Sun, whose personal doctor had been summoned to the scene.

A security guard, under instructions from Sun’s mother, used a hammer to smash a box containing a vial of his blood during the late-night dispute after the swimmer questioned the collection team’s credentials.

Sun said he was not respected by the officials, including a chaperone he said asked to take his photograph.

“This is really ridiculous,” Sun said in translated comments.

Although Sun and his entourage were criticized for their conduct, the first FINA tribunal panel said the sample mission was void and invalid because anti-doping protocol was not followed. Technically, Sun was judged to be not properly notified of needing to give samples.

WADA has asked for a ban of between two and eight years, saying Sun voluntarily refused to submit to give samples.

“That is pretty sensational,” Young, the WADA lawyer, said of the hammer-smashing incident. “But he was nailed on a tampering violation before any of that happened.”

If WADA’s appeal is upheld, Sun risks a longer sanction that could bar him from the Tokyo Games because it would be his second offense. The first offense brought the three-month ban imposed by Chinese authorities in 2014, after Sun tested positive for a banned stimulant.

That initial ban was quickly addressed by Sun and his legal team on Friday. He said it was a prescribed medication for a heart issue because he sometimes fainted after training.

Lawyers for WADA repeatedly asked if Sun had learned in his long career of the serious consequences for refusing to give a sample. He repeatedly answered that the lead anti-doping official had not warned him specifically.

Sun’s anti-doping history was detailed, with 180 samples given at competitions and during training from 2012-18. A total of 60 were organized by the Sweden-based firm IDTM, which sent the collection team to Sun’s home in 2018.

CAS judge Philippe Sands pressed Sun about whether IDTM staff had shown different kinds of documents of authorization on the 59 previous occasions he gave samples without problems.

Friday’s hearing, the first open to the media and public observers since 1999, played out inside a ballroom annex set among lakeside hotel gardens in the upscale Swiss resort of Montreux. Next door stood the concert halls of the city’s famed jazz festival.

Amid concerns over witness intimidation, the three anti-doping officials who visited Sun’s home testified earlier and did not attend Friday’s session, which was watched by more than 100 accredited observers in the room and streamed live on the CAS website.

The hearing ended with Sun surprising his own legal team by waving his arms and calling another translator from the public seats to better articulate his closing statement.

“Who is this guy?” asked an incredulous Judge Frattini, a former Italian foreign minister. “It is not up to you to appear before the court.”

“There are some rules,” he said.

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