Investigators from the world sport’s anti-doping organization have called for the Russian Athletics Federation to be suspended from competitions, following the release of a damning report that detailed systematic and widespread offenses in Russia over many years.
The conclusions released November 9 by an independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency painted a shocking picture of bribery, subterfuge, and cheating that evoked some of the worst episodes of sport doping in past memory, like the state-run system employed for years by communist East Germany.
"It's worse than we thought," Dick Pound, a co-author of the 335-page report and former head of the doping agency, told reporters in Geneva.
"All of this could not have continued to happen without the knowledge of and either applied or stated consent of the authorities,” he said.
Pound called on the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to suspend the Russian Athletics Federation from international competition.
IAAF President Sebastian Coe announced on November 9 that Russia would have until the end of the week to formally respond to the report. He said the IAAF council would make a decision "very quickly" on whether to suspend the Russian Athletics Federation.
The Russian sports ministry late November 9 issued a statement saying it was "not surprised by most of the points" raised in the scathing report and suggested that recent changes of management at Russian athletic organizations will help eliminate the doping problems.
"We are fully aware of the problems in the All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF) and we have undertaken measures to remedy the situation: there is a new president in ARAF, a new head coach, and they are currently rejuvenating the coaching staff," the ministry said.
"Russia has been and will continue to be fully committed to the fight against doping in sport."
The report was the result of months of work by the commission set up by the agency after the German television network ARD aired a scathing documentary in December about doping in Russia.
The documentary’s central claim -- that Russian track and field was plagued by doping -- was mostly corroborated by the commission’s report.
In the report, athletes, trainers, coaches, doctors, and sport-related institutions are implicated, along with the country’s own anti-doping agency and a licensed Moscow laboratory that did testing for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
The report detailed payments by athletes to conceal tests and how coaches and managers gave advance notification to athletes when inspectors would be taking samples. It also said the testing laboratory was visited regularly by agents from Russia’s top security agency, the Federal Security Service.
Speaking to Russian news agencies, Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko suggested Russia was being unfairly singled out, and that other countries also had similar problems.
"We have nothing to be shy of. Yes, we do have problems today, but we never hushed them up," he was quoted by Interfax as saying.
Vadim Zelichenok, the acting head of the Russian Athletics Federation, said the anti-doping agency had no right to suspend Russia from competitions -- only the IAAF could.
"It is only a recommendation," Zelichenok said of the WADA report.
In addition to suspending the Russian federation, the report also called for lifetime bans for five Russian athletes and for the stripping and the accreditation of the Russian anti-doping lab.
The commission found the Moscow laboratory destroyed 1,400 doping tests in December 2014 ahead of a visit by a delegation from WADA.
The independent commission's report reveals that "Russian athletes were often willing participants."
"There are documented cases where athletes who did not want to participate in 'the program' were informed they would not be considered as part of the federation's national team for competition,” it said.
The report identified "corruption and bribery practices at the highest levels of international athletics, evidence of which has been transmitted to Interpol for appropriate investigation."
WADA statistics show that Russia is the world leader in doping by athletes, with 225 violations across a variety of sports in 2013, 37 more than second-place Turkey.
Four Russian Olympic gold medalists have been banned for doping in the past 12 months: race walkers Sergei Kirdyapkin, Olga Kaniskina, and Valery Borchin, and 2012 steeplechase winner Yulia Zaripova.
The German documentary aired in December also found that that the IAAF had failed to investigate hundreds of dubious blood tests between 2001 and 2012.
The commission report pointedly noted that the IAAF had defended the Russia federation for years, and referenced both the IAAF former chief, Lamine Diack, and its former treasurer, Valentin Balakhnichev.
Last week, French authorities charged Diack, who resigned in August, with taking more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) in bribes to cover up doping cases involving Russian athletes.
Balakhnichev, who resigned аs IAAF treasurer in December and as head of the Russian Athletics Federation in February, two months after the German documentary aired, could not be immediately located for comment.
Ahead of the WADA report’s release, Balakhnichev, who served 25 years as head of the federation, told Russian media on November 7: "Let them present their claims to me, I will fight them.”
While focusing on Russia and its athletics foundation, the commission report alludes to the broader problem that spans both countries and sports.
“Russia is not the only country, nor athletics the only sport, facing the problem of orchestrated doping in sport,” it said.