The man who authored landmark reports on doping in Russian sports said that the country is risking heavier punishment by continuing to deny the state's involvement in the doping scheme.
Speaking to journalists at a sports conference in the Netherlands on November 28, World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren said that Russia is playing a risky game ahead of an International Olympic Committee's decision next week on whether Russian athletes should be allowed to participate in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.
"The more you continue to express those kinds of statements of denial, the more you build the case for a stronger set of sanctions against yourself," McLaren said.
Russian officials from President Vladimir Putin on down have all denied any state involvement in the string of doping cases that has led to the banning of dozens of Russian athletes from sports events in the last two years.
Putin suggested last month that the accusations were orchestrated by the United States to make trouble for him in the Russian presidential election in March 2018. Putin has not officially declared he is running for reelection, but he is widely expected to run and win.
McLaren, who authored two authoritative reports on Russian doping that were published in July and December 2016, dismissed Putin's allegation against the United States, saying, "The work was done more than a year ago. There's just no credibility with that."
McLaren's comments came on a day when Russian prosecutors repeated their allegation that the former head of Moscow's drug-testing lab, Grigory Rodchenkov, was largely responsible for the doping scandal.
Rodchenkov became a whistle-blower and fled to the United States, where he lives in hiding. McLaren confirmed many of Rodchenkov's allegations in his reports.
But Russian authorities said on November 28 that it was Rodchenkov who distributed drugs to athletes and manipulated test results, as alleged by McLaren, not other state officials.
McLaren responded to that charge by saying he thought Rodchenkov, who has admitted he participated in the doping scheme while in office, would not want to risk being expelled from the United States by lying about such an important matter.
"In the position he's in, I think that it would be extremely dangerous to lie," said McLaren.
Also on November 28, The New York Times reported that two of Rodchenkov's diaries describing his actions in 2014-15 are among the items of evidence being studied by anti-doping officials.
The Times, which says it has seen the journals, said the notes describe specific discussions about cheating that Rodchenkov conducted with leading Russian sports officials.
One incident laid out in Rodchenkov's notes was an interaction with an assistant to Irina Rodionova, the former deputy director of the center of sports preparation for Russian national teams.
The notes describe the assistant bringing Rodchenkov a drug concoction that was a mixture of three anabolic steroids and vermouth. Rodchenkov formulated the drinks for top athletes at the Olympics, and Rodionova prepared and distributed them, The Times report cites the journals as saying.
Rodchenkov's notes also describe plans by Russian officials to transport to Sochi hundreds of batches of clean urine that top athletes had collected for months in food jars and soda bottles to be used for testing at the Olympics.
In his diaries, Rodchenkov states that he discussed the switching of urine with Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s sports minister at the time who is now the country's deputy prime minister.
Rodchenkov writes that Mutko suggested keeping the Olympic lab work going after the Olympics as a way to experiment with new doping procedures.
In his two reports, McLaren said the Russian Ministry of Sport and the FSB security service were involved in the doping scheme and cover-up. He said those agencies arranged to switch tainted urine test samples for clean ones at the Winter Olympics at Sochi in 2014.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters