MOSCOW — Russia sharply rejected Tuesday allegations of a vast “state-sponsored” sports doping program, dismissing the claims by world sporting overseers as “groundless” and not backed up by any clear evidence.
The response points to deepening battles between the Kremlin and global sports officials after a powerful anti-doping agency charged that Russia has relied on a drug program seeking to give its athletes the upper hand in international competitions, including the Olympics.
The accusations, detailed in a damning 323-page report released on Monday by the World Anti-Doping Agency, said that Russian officials including Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko directed labs to hide telltale signs of performance-enhancing drugs.
“They are groundless,” Dmitry Peskov, the personal spokesman to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told journalists.
“The point is that if some accusations are voiced they should be substantiated by some evidence,” he said. “No evidence has been announced so far, it is difficult to accept any accusations.”
The WADA report cited some athletes by name, but also used anonymous sources of information. Peskov, like other Russian officials, stopped short of denying the claims made in the document, instead saying the evidence presented was insufficient to prove Russian wrongdoing.
The report could have serious consequences for Russia, where Putin has sought to revive a Soviet-era culture of sporting achievement crowned by holding the Sochi 2014 Olympics.
In the report, the World Anti-Doping Agency called into question some results from the 2012 London Olympics and recommended that Russia’s track and field team be banned from next year’s Rio de Janeiro Games unless the country takes immediate action.
Asked about the possibility of a ban, Peskov added: “Ask the Sports Ministry about all that.”
Monday’s report suggested that Russia’s doping program may be more widespread, too, saying, “There is no reason to believe that [track and field] is the only sport in Russia to have been affected.”
“It may be the residue of the old Soviet Union system,” Richard W. Pound, lead author of the report and former WADA president, said at a news conference in Geneva. The widespread corruption, Pound added, “was worse than we thought.”
The Russian sports ministry, led by sports minister Vitaly Mutko, directly instructed lab personnel to manipulate samples. In his news conference in Geneva, Pound said Mutko “knew what was going on.”
Mutko, in an interview aired on Russian television, denied wrongdoing and said the WADA commission’s report relies on “unverified sources, on unverified facts.” He added, “These are all conjectures.” Mutko also accused Pound of overstepping the commission’s authority by “evaluating the entire system of doping in Russia.”
“This was an absolutely politically motivated statement like anti-Russian sanctions,” Vladimir Uyba, the head of Russia’s Federal Medical-Biological Agency, told the Interfax news agency. “It has no grounds whatsoever.”
Although the report stopped short of recommending an outright ban of Russia’s track and field team from the 2016 Rio Games — a threat Pound equated to a “nuclear weapon” — it called for an immediate suspension of the team, with the understanding the suspension could be lifted in time for the Olympics if Russia complied.
“For 2016, our recommendation is that the Russian federation be suspended,” Pound said in Geneva. “If they don’t [comply], then it has to play itself out. The outcome may be that there are no track and field athletes at Rio.”
Russia won a total of 81 medals at the London Games — third-most among all countries — including 18 in track and field. A year later, it led all nations with seven gold medals at the 2013 World Track and Field Championships — the same year in which WADA reported that Russian athletes accounted for 225 doping violations, the most in the world, including 42 violations in track and field.
The report recommended lifetime bans for five Russian coaches and five athletes — including Mariya Savinova and Ekaterina Poistogova, the gold and bronze medalists from the women’s 800 meters at the London Games, respectively. The IAAF could strip the implicated Russian athletes of their medals in the coming months.
In 2018, Russia will host the coveted FIFA World Cup, winning a closely watched bid process that has come under scrutiny in recent months amid a widespread corruption scandal within FIFA. Mutko, the Russian sports minister accused in Monday’s WADA report of ordering lab personnel to manipulate test samples, is also a member of FIFA’s executive committee and the head of the 2018 World Cup organizing committee.
“The credibility of sport has taken some body blows over the last few months,” Pound said Monday. “The public view will move towards believing all sport is corrupt. If you can’t believe results, then there is a serious credibility problem. I hope all sports will look at their governance and their anti-doping systems, because their existence may be at risk.”
Dave Sheinin and Will Hobson in Washington contributed to this report.