LONDON (Reuters) – The man who helped expose Russia’s massive doping regime says the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is still in denial over the performance-enhancing drug use and would rather sweep it under the carpet than take meaningful action.
American Bryan Fogel, director of the documentary film Icarus, told Reuters that IOC president Thomas Bach had “betrayed clean athletes the world over by his failure to act decisively” and that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was “crippled by its mandate with no ability to take action”.
Russia repeated its regular denials of Fogel’s accusations that it orchestrated mass doping. WADA dismissed his comments about its powers and the IOC declined to comment.
Fogel had set out to make a film showing the impact of self-administered performance-enhancing drugs on his amateur cycling efforts, but during the research he was introduced to Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s anti-doping program.
Fogel said that after a few conversations he realized he had stumbled across a story on an entirely different level as Rodchenkov gave details on the depths and complexity of doping in his homeland.
“What he told me, and showed me, was jaw-dropping, astonishing, frightening and worrying,” Fogel told Reuters.
His account, first published in the New York Times, led to the establishment of Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren’s independent report for WADA, which backed up his account.
Rodchenkov fled Russia and is now in hiding in the United States. He said he was in fear of his life after two other senior former Russian anti-doping officials, Nikita Kamayev and Vyacheslav Sinev, died suddenly within weeks of each other in February 2016. Last week a Russian warrant was issued for Rodchenkov’s arrest.
The story of Rodchenkov’s relationship with Fogel and how, in fear of his life, he left his family and friends behind, is documented in the film now available on Netflix.
It gives details of what it says is a massive government doping project, alleging secret service involvement and describing an intricate program of sample-swapping and bottle-tampering at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
One scene shows WADA officials Olivier Niggli, Beckie Scott and Christiane Ayotte and the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission Chair Claudia Bokel reacting with shock at Rodchenkov’s account, including details of what drugs dozens of athletes had been taking.
Almost 18 months on, however, Fogel is frustrated by what he considers to be a lack of meaningful action, with his main ire directed at the IOC’s failure to ban Russia completely from the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“I quickly learned that the IOC would like nothing more than to sweep this under the carpet. Even after Richard McLaren’s report proved beyond a reasonable doubt that everything Grigory had said was true and showed the scale of the fraud, the IOC wasn’t willing to acknowledge it,” Fogel said.
“To fob the decision (on banning Russia) off to the (individual sports) federations was a punch in the face to Olympic values and to every clean athlete. Their (the IOC‘s) goal was simply to find a way to make the problem go away.”
Asked about the comments, the IOC said: “Mr Fogel is currently trying to promote his film and therefore we would make no response.”
The Olympics governing body has, however, previously tried to explain its role in the process, emphasizing that McLaren’s report never had the authority to bring anti-doping cases against individual athletes.
The IOC is reanalyzing all 254 urine samples collected from Russian athletes at Sochi, while the 63 re-tested blood samples collected from Russian athletes there were all negative.
Bach said last month that he had not watched the Icarus film.
Foden was full of praise for McLaren, who worked closely with Rodchenkov during the presentation of his evidence, but said WADA’s structure and the fact that it is 50-percent funded by the IOC left it powerless.
“Essentially the IOC owns WADA and they (WADA) have no power – all they can do is observe and report,” he said.
“In WADA there are good people trying to do the right thing. But you have an organization essentially hamstrung by its mandate. They (WADA) can find a million crimes but without the authority to act they are a crippled organization.”
Fogel cited the fact that 95 of the 96 athletes named by McLaren had been cleared as evidence of WADA and the IOC’s failings but WADA director general Niggli told Reuters that view was a misunderstanding of the situation.
”It is important to keep in focus that McLaren’s mandate was finding out about the system,“ he told Reuters. ”He gave us the names but he and we said from day one there probably wouldn’t be enough evidence for an individual anti-doping violation.
“At that stage his mandate was finished but to say nothing is happening is totally wrong.”
Niggli also said WADA had a new set of compliance standards and the sanctions process would soon be carried out by an independent body – probably the Court of Arbitration for Sport – and no longer by national bodies or federations.
“I think that shows there is a will from both sides to do the right thing,” he said.
Fogel also had stinging criticism for the Russian authorities.
”Grigory took extraordinary risks and had to leave everything behind,“ he said. ”They’ve seized his assets, tried to take his daughter’s apartment that he had bought for her and they are trying to take his wife’s property.
“This film is truly a window into how Russia operates, putting sport aside. It shows what the country is prepared to do to guarantee its influence in a geo-political situation.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters the Russian government “decisively rejected” the accusations.
“We have said many times that the state was never involved and cannot be involved in any sports doping,” he said.
”We don’t know why Rodchenkov fears for his life, but we do know that he is on the international wanted list for crimes that he purportedly committed in Moscow.”
Dmitry Svishchev, who serves on the Russian parliament’s sport and physical culture committee and is the president of the country’s curling federation, said Rodchenkov was the person who should be facing punishment.
“There were unfortunately many cases in which some athletes tried to achieve results dishonestly, there are cases like these all over the world, but it’s insanity to say that there was a state program,” he said. “This is all Rodchenkov’s fantasy.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Additonal reporting by Gabriell Tetrault-Farber and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Editing by Ken Ferris