Lawyers and experts in sports ethics have spent years questioning whether or not Russian officials have used — and covered up — wide-scale doping to improve their athletes’ chances of winning international sports competitions.
On Monday morning, Richard McLaren, the Canadian attorney leading the World Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation into Moscow’s use of such drugs, said he has found “beyond a reasonable doubt” that they did.
His findings, which come just one month ahead of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, add new momentum to the growing international push to ban Russia from competing in the Summer Games. “I was anticipating the worst,” Paul Media, the top anti-doping official in Canada, said. “Yet when I listen to the evidence, I’m shocked and devastated.”
“We’re not asking for the worst, and obviously we hope there’s no doping going on by states,” Travis Tygart, chief of the United States’ Anti-Doping Agency, said ahead of the report’s release. “But if we’re not preparing for all potential outcomes, then we’re not fulfilling our promise to clean athletes,” he told the New York Times.
Moscow’s track and field team has already been effectively barred from Rio following another WADA report late last year that there was widespread doping within that particular sport. (Although the team was officially banned last month, Russia will still try to appeal the decision.)
McLaren’s report prompted the International Olympic Committee’s executive board to plan an emergency conference call on Tuesday to discuss whether to ban Russia entirely or broaden the list of athletes ineligible to participate.
So far, it’s not looking for good for Moscow. IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement Monday that the latest report is “a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sports and on the Olympic Games.”
“The IOC will not hesitate to take the toughest sanctions available against any individual or organization implicated in the report confirming widespread doping in Russian sports,” he wrote, adding that the conference call is intended “to make initial decisions on possible sanctions for the Rio Games.”
The report detailed extensive measures taken by the Russian Ministry of Sport not just to inject athletes with drugs that boosted their athletic ability but an entire system to cover up the doping by switching urine samples in state-run laboratories that were advertised to the outside world as the places where samples were tested in order to ensure doping was not happening.
The report did not make any recommendations, but offers a glimpse into an undercover operation that the government “directed, controlled and oversaw.”
It also substantiated earlier claims by Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of the laboratory where the doping took place, who told the New York Times earlier this year that Russians employed by the lab took extraordinary measures to hide the doping.
Russia has denied the allegations, but the findings could implicate athletes across a long period of time and a wide range of athletic contests, as shown in the following chart included in McLaren’s report:
Chart of disappearing RUS positives by sport from the Mclaren report.
This is some industrial scale PED coverup. pic.twitter.com/e6VXhsKqQo
— Richard Ings (@ringsau) July 18, 2016
Whichever way the IOC ultimately rules, the flap adds to the mounting concerns about the international games, which have already been plagued by protests and corruption allegations within the Brazilian government. The outbreak of Zika virus, believed to cause serious birth defects in pregnant women, also hasn’t helped build enthusiasm for the games.
Photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images
Correction, July 18, 2016: Paul Melia is Canada’s top anti-doping official. A previous version of this article misspelled his name.