The Russian Olympic Doping Scandal

The World Anti-Doping Agency found “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Russia helped athletes cheat at the Sochi Olympics.

Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

Updated on July 18 at 1:45 p.m. ET

NEWS BRIEF The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has recommended that all Russian athletes be barred from competing in the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. The announcement comes just a few hours after a the release of a two-month investigation that found the Russian government helped dozens of its athletes cheat at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Richard McLaren, a Canadian law professor and sports lawyer, who presented the findings at a news conference Monday in Toronto, said he established “beyond a reasonable doubt” Russian government involvement in the doping coverup.

In its statement after the presentation, WADA said, “Given that the Russian Ministry of Sport orchestrated systematic cheating of Russian athletes to subvert the doping control process; and that, the evidence shows such subversion in 30 sports, including 20 Olympic summer sports and Paralympic sports, the presumption of innocence of athletes in these sports, and in all Russian sports, is seriously called into question.”

The report came out less than three weeks before summer games in Rio. Although there has been no final determination, the International Association of Athletics’ Federations (IAAF), which governs track-and-field events worldwide, was expected to seek a ban on all Russian athletes. Reuters first reported the news Saturday when it obtained a leaked draft of a letter prepared in anticipation of the WADA report’s release. IAAF officials who reportedly wrote the letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said, in part:

Therefore, consistent with the Principles, Charter and Code we request that the IOC Executive Board take the action to suspend the Russian Olympic and Paralympic Committee from participating in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

The only appropriate, and permissible, course of action in these unprecedented circumstances is for the IOC to immediately suspend the Russian Olympic and Paralympic Committees from the Olympic Movement.... and declare that no athlete can represent Russia at the Rio Olympic Games.

The Olympic Committee has already banned Russian track-and-field athletes from the Rio games, which begin August 5. A total ban on all athletes would be novel, and is seen by some as the “nuclear option.”

Some of WADA’s other recommendations included officially designating Russia’s anti-doping agency as non-compliant, a continued investigation into the scheme, and denying all Russian officials access to the games in Rio.

WADA called for the report, which focused on claims made by Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Russia’s former anti-doping lab. In May, he told The New York Times the Russian government had helped dozens of athletes, including 15 medal winners, cheat at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. Rodchenkov said he developed a three-drug cocktail (washed down with alcohol) that he gave to athletes, including those on the country’s bobsled and cross-country ski teams. The scheme even included a secret room where Rodchenkov and intelligence agents allegedly swapped out dirty urine for clean batches by passing them through a hole in the wall, replacing about 100 supposedly tamper-proof bottles.

In the news conference Monday, McLaren said Russia’s top intelligence agency, the FSB, had worked closely with the country’s Ministry of Sport to develop the technology to remove and replace the urine in the bottles. McLaren did not describe how Russian intelligence exactly replaced the urine without breaking the seal on the bottles, but he did say that with Rodchenkov’s help they were able to go back with a microscope and see small scratches left behind on the inside of the caps.

After the Sochi games, Rodchenkov received a prestigious award from President Vladimir Putin for his work. Then in November, WADA accused Rodchenkov of being the mastermind of the state-run doping scheme. Russian officials forced him to resign, and he moved to Los Angeles. Since then, he has divulged to media and investigators the secrets of how Russia helped athletes cheat.

Russian officials, as well as athletes, have denied doping, or any scheme to cheat at the Sochi games. The report, however, points directly to Russian Sports  Minister Yuri Nagornykh, as well as Irina Rodionova, deputy director of the center of sports preparation. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would suspend officials named in the report. He also asked WADA to provide “more complete, objective, evidence-based information” about the Russians involved.

At the news conference Monday, a reporter who identified herself as a member of Russian media asked why Russian officials not been interviewed as part of the investigation. In past investigations, McLaren said he’d done that, but he had  “found that information and process singularly unhelpful.”