Russia’s sports minister has apologized for his country's deepening doping scandal and pleaded for Russia's athletes to be allowed to compete in the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
In his strongest comments to date on the issue, Vitaly Mutko wrote in an article in Britain’s Sunday Times that Russia remains "committed to upholding the highest standards in sport and is opposed to anything that threatens the Olympic values."
"We are very sorry that athletes who tried to deceive us, and the world, were not caught sooner," he wrote in the May 15 article. "Serious mistakes have been made by the federation management, along with athletes and coaches. ... We are ashamed of them.”
Russia is currently banned from taking part in all athletics events after an independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency revealed widespread doping.
With less than three months before the Rio games, Moscow is seeking to have the ban overturned. The president of the world agency, Craig Reedie, however, has said it was "highly unlikely" that Russian track-and-field athletes would be allowed to compete in Rio.
Mutko’s comments come just days after The New York Times published a lengthy interview with the former head of Russia’s antidoping laboratory, detailing how Russia athletes cheated on drug tests during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Grigori Rodchenkov told The New York Times that he helped provide banned substances to athletes and replace drug-tainted testing samples with clean ones during the Sochi games. Rodchenkov, who was awarded a presidential order after the Sochi games, was later forced to resign and has since fled to the United States, saying he feared for his life.
The New York Times quoted Rodchenkov as saying that Russian athletes provided clean urine samples ahead of the Sochi games, which were then used to replace tainted samples taken during the actual competition.
Bottles of urine, he said, were passed to the lab for testing through a small hole in the wall.
Rodchenkov said the scheme, which involved athletes, officials, and intelligence agencies, worked "like a Swiss watch."
The Kremlin’s chief spokesman told reporters on May 13 that Rodchenkov’s allegations are a “turncoat’s libel.”
The International Olympic Committee described the accusations detailed in The New York Times report as "very worrying," and called for an immediate investigation. The World Anti-Doping Agency also announced it had opened a probe.
Two Russian athletes whose names were on a list shown to the newspaper by Rodchenkov have denied the accusations, calling them a campaign to tarnish the prestige of Russian sport.
Russia topped the Sochi medal table with 33 medals, including 13 golds.
The latest revelations came after a whistle-blower told the U.S. investigative news program 60 Minutes that at least four Russian gold medalists in Sochi were using steroids. German TV has also detailed doping involving Russian biathletes.
Russian athletes have also come under scrutiny after testing positive for using the recently banned drug meldonium.
With reporting from AP and Reuters