MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that his country must "do everything" to stamp out doping, ordering an inquiry into allegations of major drug abuse in athletics which could result in the country being barred from all competitions.
Moscow is scrambling to respond to a bombshell World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) report released this week that alleged systematic doping in Russian athletics. A possibility has already been raised of appointing a foreign specialist to take over its discredited testing laboratory.
Athletics' world governing body IAAF has given Russia until today to come up with answers to the allegations, and Mr Putin met sports chiefs in Sochi, the Black Sea home of the 2014 Winter Olympics, ahead of the deadline.
The stakes could not be higher for Russia, which risks being excluded from next year's Summer Olympics in Rio over damning claims of corruption and "state-sponsored" doping.
"We must do everything in Russia to rid ourselves of this problem," Mr Putin said in footage shown on Russian television of the meeting - ironically called to discuss the country's preparations for Rio. "We must carry out our own internal inquiry," he said.
If someone breaks the rules on doping, the responsibility should be individual. Athletes who have never touched doping should not pay for those who have transgressed.
MR VLADIMIR PUTIN, President of Russia
He also told sports officials to show "the most open and professional cooperation with international anti-doping authorities".
"This problem does not exist only in Russia, but if our foreign colleagues have questions, we must answer them," he added.
It is the first time Mr Putin, himself an avid sportsman, has commented publicly on the charges levelled by an independent commission chaired by Wada's Dick Pound, which have rocked the flagship Olympics sport.
He echoed a plea by Russia's Olympic Committee not to sacrifice the dreams of clean competitors, saying there should not be collective punishment.
"If someone breaks the rules on doping, the responsibility should be individual," he said.
"Athletes who have never touched doping should not pay for those who have transgressed."
His measured response was in contrast to the reaction from Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko.
The latter had lashed out at Britain, claiming it had an even inferior anti-doping system.
He cited the case of six Russian athletes who competed at the 2012 Olympics in London despite having abnormal blood readings.
Wada said the data was covered up in Russia but Mr Mutko blamed Britain for not catching the dopers at the Olympics.
"If you're accusing our athletes today, then your system is zero and worse than ours," he said.
The report recommended that five middle-distance runners and five coaches be given lifetime doping bans. Two of the athletes - Mariya Savinova and Ekaterina Poistogova - were the gold and bronze medallists in the 800m in 2012.
Russia's second-largest bank VTB, meanwhile, said it would not renew a sponsorship contract with the IAAF but insisted the decision had nothing to do with the doping scandal engulfing the sport.
Mikhail Butov, the Russian athletics federation's secretary-general and one of the 27 council members of the IAAF who will meet today, conceded that doping was an issue.
"We're conscious of the problem that we've got," he told the BBC.
Russia, accused by Wada of "sabotaging" the last Olympic Games, finished fourth in the medal table at London 2012.
The furore comes after Grigory Rodchenkov, the disgraced director of Moscow's suspended anti-doping laboratory who allegedly destroyed almost 1,500 samples, resigned from his post.
His laboratory has being stripped of its accreditation.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON