President Vladimir Putin’s sports minister, who denied state involvement in doping at the Olympics, went on the offensive over accusations that Russian hackers leaked confidential medical records of U.S. athletes including tennis star Serena Williams and gymnast Simone Biles.
“How can you prove that the hackers are Russian?” Vitaly Mutko, the minister, asked reporters Wednesday in Athens, Greece, where he’s attending a meeting of European soccer’s governing body, UEFA. “You blame Russia for everything, it is very in fashion now.”
Mutko hit back after the World Anti Doping Agency said the Fancy Bear group, which published the information, was a “Russian cyber espionage group.” The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency branded as “cowardly and despicable” the release of details of medication taken by athletes under therapeutic-use exemptions that allow for the use of banned substances.
The scandal broke amid anger in Russia at a ban on its track and field athletes from last month’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro after an independent report commissioned by WADA found that the Russian Sports Ministry oversaw a vast program to manipulate athletes’ doping test results. The entire Russian squad was banned from the Paralympic Games taking place now in Rio. The Fancy Bear group claimed on its website that the data it published on U.S. athletes, who also included tennis player Venus Williams and basketball gold-medal winner Elena Delle Donne, proved that they also broke anti-doping rules.
The incident follows the attack on Democratic National Committee computers that U.S. officials blamed on hackers guided by the Russian government. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the release of information from the DNC hack a public service in an interview this month, but denied his government had anything to do with it.
“We are also concerned because they have the same data of the Russian athletes and we can also be a victim,” Mutko said of the cyber attack on WADA.
The International Olympic Committee said the athletes named hadn’t broken anti-doping rules for the Olympics. The USADA said the documents demonstrated the opposite of Fancy Bear’s claims that U.S. competitors were winning by illegal means.
“In fact, in each of the situations, the athlete has done everything right in adhering to the global rules for obtaining permission to use a needed medication,” USADA Chief Executive Officer Travis Tygart said in a statement, calling the hacks “cyber-bullying.”
Russia’s state-run Rossiya 24 television covered the publication of the data throughout the day, showing repeated clips of Biles’ gold-medal winning routines. Russians are being blamed for the hacking attack “by tradition,” the channel reported, and it cited a computer expert who said state security services wouldn’t have been so unprofessional as to leave an online trace to Russia.
The attacks are “an attempt to undermine WADA and the global anti-doping system,” the agency’s director general, Olivier Niggli, said in a website statement. “These criminal acts are greatly compromising the effort by the global anti-doping community to re-establish trust in Russia.”