Russian Doping Scandal May Affect Rio Games Eligibility

May 21, 2016
Originally published on May 21, 2016 9:58 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Just over a couple of months to go until the Summer Games in Rio, where BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music, will not be a competitor. Olympic officials are trying to avoid a doping scandal. They're testing urine samples from games at Beijing and London. And the head of the International Olympic Committee is also promising to look into allegations that Russia ran an elaborate doping operation two years ago in Sochi. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Thomas Bach says the IOC's retesting of samples from previous Olympics has already identified more than 30 athletes from 12 nations who may be banned from Rio.

THOMAS BACH: The IOC will react with zero tolerance. Whoever is involved and is within the reach of the IOC, then, will be sanctioned because this we owe to all the clean athletes around the globe.

FLINTOFF: Bach said the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, will conduct what he called a full-fledged investigation of claims that Russian officials systematically cheated on doping tests in Sochi. In an op-ed for USA TODAY, he says the accusations involved an unprecedented level of criminality and said that if they're proved, Russia's entire Olympic team could be banned from the Summer Games.

Russian officials have promised to cooperate with the IOC investigations. But many were scornful when The New York Times reported that U.S. federal prosecutors were also investigating the Sochi allegations. Dmitry Svishev, the chairman of a parliamentary committee on sports, said American investigators should start in their own backyard.

DMITRY SVISHEV: (Foreign language spoken).

FLINTOFF: "They have just as many problems in their country," he said. "Maybe more. Doping is a problem for all countries." Although there's been no official confirmation that U.S. prosecutors are investigating, the chief spokesman for the Kremlin insisted that they wouldn't have jurisdiction in the case.

But Russian officials have shown a conciliatory side as well, especially after they hired a major Western PR agency to represent them. In an op-ed in London's Sunday Times, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said that mistakes had been made. And he pleaded that Russia's drug-free athletes should not be deprived of their chance to compete. Two young Russian athletes made that case this week in Moscow, as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FLINTOFF: Gulnaz Gubaidullina and Egor Puchkarevsky are world-class competitors in the pentathlon, a grueling event where athletes must excel in fencing, shooting, horseback riding, swimming and cross-country running.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible).

FLINTOFF: This is Puchkarevsky finishing sixth in last year's European championships. Both athletes say they've sacrificed a lot for their Olympic dreams and that they've never taken performance-enhancing drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian).

GULNAZ GUBAIDULLINA: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: "Of course not," Gulnaz says. And Egor agrees. "We're for honest sport."

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: "Just because some of the track and field athletes were were caught doping," Gulnaz says, "it doesn't mean that other sportspeople were using anything. I think that in pentathlon, there's nothing of the kind."

Both athletes say a total ban on Russians competing in Rio wouldn't be fair to them. But American athletes who were deprived of medals by Russians who cheated say in those cases, clean competitors never had a chance. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.