Swimming: Fina to probe latest Russian doping claims

Russia's Yana Martynova competing during the women's 400m individual medley qualifications at the Fina World Swimming Championships in Rome, on Aug 2, 2009.
Russia's Yana Martynova competing during the women's 400m individual medley qualifications at the Fina World Swimming Championships in Rome, on Aug 2, 2009. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - As Russia staged a last-ditch bid to overturn a doping ban currently barring its athletes from competing at this year's Olympic Games in Rio, swimming authorities called for "relevant evidence" following fresh allegations that Russian swimmers had also been caught up in a similar scandal.

Friday saw the International Association of Athletics Federations' (IAAF) governing council meeting in Vienna to decide whether to readmit Russia, first banned in November after a bombshell report by a World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) independent commission that said there was state-sponsored doping and mass corruption in Russian athletics.

Before that meeting started, a joint newspaper investigation by Britain's The Times and Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine was published alleging that two men at the centre of Russian doping revelations in athletics were said to have offered to exempt the country's swimmers from drug-testing in return for an annual fee.

Fina, swimming's world governing body, said in response: "These are very serious allegations and we urge anyone with relevant evidence to bring it forward to FIina so that we can share with all appropriate authorities and take immediate disciplinary action if required."

According to The Times report, Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, and Nikita Kamaev, the late executive director of Rusada, the national anti-doping agency, are said to have offered the national swimming federation a deal in which some of its swimmers would not be asked to provide test samples ahead of London 2012 in return for three million rubles (S$62,413) a year.

It added that Russian sports sources allege that Rodchenkov and Kamaev met officials from the Russian Swimming Federation at least twice for several hours in the autumn of 2011 in an attempt to strike a deal.

"Rodchenkov and Kamaev twice called (the Russian swimming federation) for meetings in 2011," an anonymous source told The Times.

"The last meeting was in October at the start of final Olympic preparations when (swimming officials) were called to a meeting with Rusada. After two hours they got to the point: they would remove two or three key swimmers from the anti-doping pool in return for three million rubles a year."

The Russian swimming federation has so far declined to respond to the allegations but Wada spokesman Ben Nichols told The Times: "These allegations are most concerning. We have immediately passed this on to our investigations team, who will examine the information in further detail."

The allegations follow revelations in The Times that two positive tests by Russian swimmers for the blood-boosting drug EPO were never reported.

Rodchenkov said last month he took part in a scheme involving government security officers to swap Russian athletes' urine for clean samples at the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.

The Times reported he told them on Thursday he could not comment on the latest allegations while he is co-operating with a Wada investigation into Russian doping cover-ups.

Kamaev died suddenly aged 52 in February this year.

Russia's Olympic fate will be decided by the 27-member IAAF Council in Vienna.

Sebastian Coe, the IAAF president, himself the target of allegations he enlisted the help of the fugitive son of disgraced predecessor Lamine Diack to secure his election last year, is due to give a press conference at the Grand Hotel Wien at 1500 GMT Friday.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko pre-empted that by penning an open letter to Coe and the Council, saying: "In anticipation of your decision on June 17 in respect to Russian athletes, I would like to once again assure you that Russia fully supports fighting doping."