An investigation gives Moscow a gold medal for cheating



WHEN Grigory Rodchenkov, the erstwhile director of Russia’s anti-doping lab, confessed that he had helped run a state-directed doping programme during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, his story sounded fanciful. He said he had served athletes steroid-spiked cocktails mixed with cognac and vermouth, while Russia’s secret police, the Federal Security Service (FSB), had cracked the supposedly foolproof urine-sample bottles used in international competition. The sports ministry, Mr Rodchenkov claimed, fed lab officials lists of athletes to be protected; their drug-laced samples were swapped for clean ones through a hole in the wall of the Sochi testing facility.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) dispatched a team to investigate. This week, the results came back positive: Mr Rodchenkov’s story was true. The report, the latest in a string of WADA investigations of Russian sport, details a co-ordinated government-run doping effort. Since 2011 the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, in concert with the sports ministry, had used a technique called “the disappearing positive” to cover up for dirty athletes; the FSB helped cook up a more sophisticated sample-swapping plan for the Sochi games. The cheating touched at least 30 sports, tainting Russia’s triumphant haul of 33 medals in Sochi and calling into question the results of the 2013 track and field World Championships and the 2013 World University Games, both held in Russia. Richard McLaren, a Canadian lawyer who led the inquiry, says his initial scepticism of Mr Rodchenkov’s claims proved unwarranted: “Now I know it did happen.”

The evidence leaves no doubt. Investigators found signs of tampering on preserved samples from Russian athletes in Sochi. One man accredited as a “sewer engineer” at the Sochi games turned out to be a Russian intelligence officer, Evgeny Blokhin, who helped Mr Rodchenkov swap out the samples. In e-mails, Russian sports officials referred to Mr Rodchenkov’s cocktail by the nickname “the Duchess”. The report refutes Russian claims that doping was the fault of a few bad apples. Senior Russian sports officials, including a deputy minister and an anti-doping adviser, played key roles in managing the cover-up, dictating which athletes should be protected.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) called the Russian programme a “shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sport”. Russia’s track and field federation has already been banned from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, due to start on August 5th.

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