Russian officials finally admit Olympic doping was an ‘institutional conspiracy’

They’re not apologizing, though.

Veleriya Obarevich, left, and Yan Shamilov carry a Russian flag with the message “Thank you, Putin!” written across it through the Olympic Park ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics closing ceremony, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman

In the past, Russian officials have vehemently denied allegations of widespread doping, going so far as to call reports “baseless libel.” But now they are changing their tone.

“It was an institutional conspiracy,” Anna Antseliovich, the acting director general of Russia’s national anti-doping agency, told the New York Times in a series of interviews conducted in Moscow.

This reversal comes just weeks after Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren delivered the second part of his report on Russian doping, part of an independent investigation commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). McLaren found that more than 1,000 Russian athletes in 30 sports were part of the state-sponsored doping program, which dates back to at least 2011.

“The general feeling in Russia is that we didn’t have a chance.”

The breadth of the Russian doping scandal is unprecedented. In May, an explosive New York Times interview with Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory, revealed that Russia’s success at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi was due “one of the most elaborate — and successful — doping ploys in sports history.”

Among other bombshells, Rodchenkov reported that during the Sochi Olympics he would receive daily lists from a sports ministry official detailing which athlete urine samples needed to be swapped. Each night, Rodchenkov said, he would go to a storage space next to the anti-doping lab and someone would pass urine samples to him through a hole in the wall so that he could make the exchange.

In July, weeks before the Rio Olympics, McLaren’s first report found “beyond a reasonable doubt” that top Russian officials, including the secret service, were involved in this corruption, and that between 2011 and 2015, the Russian Ministry of Sport erased a minimum of 312 positive doping tests.

The fallout from the doping scandal has been vast. Russia’s track and field athletes have been suspended from international competition for over a year; Russia’s drug testing operations are decertified, and many international sporting competitions are removing events from country; the entire Russian Paralympic team was suspended from participating in the Rio Games; 28 Russian athletes are currently involved in disciplinary proceedings with the International Olympic Committee; and all urine samples from the 2012 Summer Games in London are being reexamined.

“From my point of view, as a former minister of sport, president of Olympic committee — we made a lot of mistakes,” Vitaly Smirnov, a top sports official in Russia who was tapped by Putin to reform Russia’s anti-doping program, said to the New York Times.

However, Antseliovich, Smirnov and other Russian officials still deny that President Vladimir Putin and his direct aides had anything to do with the corruption, even though Putin was heavily involved in the Sochi Games. (The Times refers to them as his “pet project.”)

In his interview with the Times, Smirnov implied that the only reason Russia was caught is because Rodchenkov came forward, and that it’s possible that other Olympic hosts, such as Beijing and London, ran similar doping schemes. Additionally, he said that Russia had to dope in order to remain competitive with Western countries.

“Russia never had the opportunities that were given to other countries,” Smirnov said. “The general feeling in Russia is that we didn’t have a chance.”

Mikhail Kusnircovich, the owner of Bosco, urged the IOC not to further punish Russia or its athletes by invoking a saying that was popular during Joseph Stalin’s reign: “The son is not responsible for his father’s sins.”’

Bosco, notably, designs Russia’s Olympic uniforms, and lost money when Russian Olympians and the entire Russian Paralympic team were banned from the Rio Games this summer.

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