MOSCOW • Russia's Minister for Sport Vitaly Mutko has issued a plea for his country's athletes to be allowed to compete in the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games and apologised for the "deceptive" sportsmen caught doping in the past.
His mea culpa, in an article he wrote for Britain's The Sunday Times, comes just three days after he described as "absurd" allegations that Russian athletes were involved in systematic doping at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
With less than three months before the Rio Games open in August, Moscow is seeking to have a global ban overturned to allow its track and field athletes to compete.
The All-Russia Athletic Federation was suspended by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) after several high-profile Russian athletes were caught red-handed in using banned performance-enhanced substances.
"Serious mistakes have been made by the federation management, along with athletes and coaches... We are ashamed of them," Mr Mutko said in his strongest comments over the doping scandal.
"We are very sorry that athletes who tried to deceive us, and the world, were not caught sooner. We are very sorry because Russia is committed to upholding the highest standards in sport and is opposed to anything that threatens the Olympic values."
Russia, second behind the United States in the athletics medal table at the 2012 London Olympics, is banned from all competitions after an independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) revealed widespread doping.
Wada president Craig Reedie told BBC radio in an interview on Saturday that it was "highly unlikely" that Russia's anti-doping authority would be declared compliant with world sports rules in time for Rio.
Russia has to convince the IAAF, which will determine the country's Olympic fate at a crunch meeting on June 17, that it has put in place measures to show improvement in its anti-doping operation and a "change of culture".
Mr Mutko's ministry and the Russian Olympic Committee were not available for immediate comment. He insisted that since the scandal emerged, Russia has been putting its house in order, listing some of the new measures designed to ensure his country's appearance in Rio.
"Before the Rio Games begin, our aspiring Olympians will undergo a minimum of three anti-doping controls carried out by the IAAF - in addition to any testing that they receive in all qualifying competitions," he said.
"In addition, two international experts are now based in Moscow to supervise all activities of our anti-doping agency."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE