MOSCOW, Russia May 13- Russia on Friday denied what it called unsubstantiated claims of a vast state-run doping programme during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi seen by many as a triumph for Vladimir Putin.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the allegations that dozens of Russian athletes, including at least 15 medallists, took performance-enhancing drugs during the showpiece games as Russia boasted of its efforts to clean up sport.
“These look like absolutely unsubstantiated claims,” Peskov told journalists in response to the claims by Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory.
Peskov called the allegations “the slander of a defector,” using a Cold War term for Soviet citizens who fled to the West.
Deputy sports minister Yury Nagornykh on Friday said: “We have not carried out any state programme, any special programme, any measures to distort the results of doping control nor will we do so.”
“We are committed to zero tolerance on athletes using banned substances and methods.”
In a separate statement the sports ministry said that Rodchenkov’s claims looked like an attempt to shift responsibility following his resignation.
“We are convinced that under a worldwide anti-doping system that exists today mass manipulations are impossible,” the ministry said.
The sports ministry however urged an investigation if any of Rodchenkov’s claims were based on facts.
Rodchenkov, fearing for his safety and currently living at a secret location in Los Angeles, made the sensational claims to the New York Times on Thursday.
He headed Russia’s anti-doping laboratory from 2006 to November 2015 when he resigned after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accused the laboratory of being part of a state-sponsored doping programme.
In his first interview, Rodchenkov described a massive, tightly-organised doping operation involving Russia’s FSB security service and the sports ministry.
– ‘Information attack’ –
“I would not rely on such unsubstantiated claims,” Peskov said, asked to comment on alleged involvement by the ministry and the security service.
Peskov added that the Kremlin would support those willing to sue Rodchenkov or any media outlets publishing these allegations.
Nagornykh said Russia would nevertheless act to verify Rodchenkov’s claims.
“All the incidents that could be the subject of an investigation, based on information made public yesterday — those actions will be taken by the Russian side.”
Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko has condemned the latest allegations as “absurd,” calling them “a continuation of the information attack on Russian sport”.
The claims come as a huge blow to Russia after it spent billions turning Sochi from a rundown resort to a gleaming showcase for the games.
Putin personally backed Russia’s bid, even giving an emotional speech in English to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
After dire results at the previous Winter Games in Vancouver, Russia topped the medals table at Sochi with 13 golds in an apparent turnaround for its sporting fortunes.
“The results show that the difficult period in the history of Russia sport is over,” Putin said after the games.
“Everything that was done and invested in our sport has not been in vain,” he boasted.
Russia has always insisted that the Sochi Games were clean.
WADA in its damning report on Russia last year said that FSB security service officers were present at the anti-doping laboratory in Sochi.
But its main focus has been on Russia’s allegedly facilitating drug cheats at the London Olympics in 2012.
The IOC said in November that there was no reason to doubt the anti-doping results in Sochi.
Asked if Russian athletes would be able to compete at the Rio Olympics this summer, Peskov said Mutko would need to answer this, but added: “We hope that all will be well.”
– ‘Political game’ –
Two of the Russian athletes named by Rodchenkov involved in doping at Sochi, denied the allegations alongside Nagornykh on Friday.
Cross-country skier Alexander Legkov who won gold and silver at Sochi called the claims a “political game.”
“Everyone is seriously prejudiced against our country because it’s one of the strongest in the world,” he said.
He waved a thick folder which he said contained all his doping samples over the last three years.
Alexander Zubkov, a bobsledder who won two golds, said: “This claim from him is not backed up by any facts, any documents, it simply besmirches my name in sport.”
“In 15 years I’ve never been seen as breaching WADA’s anti-doping campaign,” he said.