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Russia Moves To Criminalize Doping As Olympic Medalists Implicated

  • RFE/RL

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Moscow will pass legislation criminalizing the use of illegal drugs to boost sports performance.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Moscow will pass legislation criminalizing the use of illegal drugs to boost sports performance.

Russia will pass legislation making it a criminal offense to use illegal drugs to boost performance in sports, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said on May 24.

"We have taken the decision to introduce this special law to make doping, and those attempting to take performance-enhancing drugs, a criminal offense," he told reporters in Moscow.

The move to criminalize doping came as Russian state media reported on May 24 that 10 Russian medalists in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 were among 14 Russians who tested positive in retests of their doping samples.

On May 20, the Kremlin backed a plan to present the legislation to the Russian State Duma, Mutko said.

TASS reported that those found breaking the law could be fined a maximum of 3 million rubles ($45,051) or jailed for up to five years.

Russia was suspended from international athletics in November after an investigation uncovered damning evidence of widespread doping and corruption.

The Russian Olympic Committee said on May 24 that it had been informed by the International Olympic Committee that rechecks of samples from the 2008 Beijing games showed 14 of the country's athletes had returned positive tests.

The committee did not identify those who tested positive, but Russian media reported that they included 4x100-meter relay gold medalist Yulia Chermoshanskaya and 2008 bronze medalist and 2012 high jump champion Anna Chicherova.

Silver medal winners whose doping retests reportedly came back positive were javelin thrower Maria Abakumova, 4x400 relay runners Anastasia Kapachinskaya and Tatiana Firova, and weightlifter Maria Shainova, Russian state sports channel Match TV said.

Bronze medalists included Ekaterina Volkova in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, men's 4x400 relay team member Denis Alexeyev, race walker Denis Nizhegorodov, and weightlifter Nadezhda Yevstukhina.

While the positive tests must be confirmed by a second round of retesting, the revelation that so many Olympic medalists could potentially be stripped of their medals prompted the Russian track federation to say it will ban any athlete found guilty of doping from attending the Rio Olympics in August.

The federation said its goal is to convince world athletics officials that Russia is doing "everything so that clean athletes could take part in the 2016 Olympic Games."

Mutko said the criminalization legislation also is aimed at showing Russia is purging its sports programs of dopers to bring the doping scandal to an end.

"We need to create an anti-doping system which everyone has faith in, in order to not return to Sochi, Beijing, or London," Mutko said.

"We are spending billions of dollars on sport. When investing such vast sums of money, there is no reason for us to hide cheats, whether they are sportsmen or coaches, who are doping and win a medal. This is not part of our philosophy or policy."

The IAAF, the governing body of athletics, will decide on June 17 if Moscow has done enough to clean up its act and whether to allow its track-and-field competitors to go to the Rio Olympics.

"I do not see any major reasons why our athletes should not be allowed to compete at the Olympics. I believe the punishments for doping should always be at an individual level," said Mutko.

"Those sportsmen who have a chance to go to Rio will undergo at least three additional doping tests. This is an unprecedented check. I hope the IAAF will take into account the efforts that Russia is taking."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, Interfax, TASS, and AFP