The Russians were running out of time. Experts from the World Anti-Doping Agency were heading to Moscow to finally receive the trove of data they’d been seeking for two years.
Instead of getting ready to hand it over, Russian authorities stayed busy in a round-the-clock endeavor to keep changing, deleting and manipulating the data. Granular details of the plot are sprinkled throughout WADA’s previously confidential 89-page report, obtained by The Associated Press.
Among the most brazen projects, the report says, was the rewriting of memos to make it look as though the man who exposed the plot was leveraging the Russian doping scheme to line his own pockets. The rewrites were also designed to eliminate any record that one of Russia’s own key defense witnesses in the case had done anything wrong.
“Treat all the files the same, and you can take your Bonus home,” said one of the doctored messages, purported to have been written by whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov to another worker, Timofey Sobolevsky, at the now-infamous Moscow antidoping lab.
In fact, the original messages were to Sobolevsky from a key Russian witness and purveyor of the plot, Evgeny Kudryavtsev. Those simply said “OK,” and “Tim, we will soon be giving it.” Kudryavtsev has called Rodchenkov, who lives in hiding in the United States, a liar. Rodchenkov was not part of the original exchange.
The doctored message was one of thousands of manipulations that were concocted long after Russia had agreed to hand over the data in its original form. In fact, Russia was doctoring files as late as Jan. 16, 2019, while WADA’s team was already in the building, one day away from leaving Moscow with the now-sullied data in tow.
The details of the deception, portrayed by WADA investigators as the “smoking gun” in the Russian manipulation case, are included in the report, which spells out the ways Russia reworked data that was supposed to be used to prosecute doping cases stemming from its state-run system to win Olympic medals.
Sprinkled throughout the 89 pages are a number of explanations the Russians gave for the discrepancies — among them, system malfunctions and routine space-clearing operations that occurred at the beginning of every year — each of which is incisively batted down by the WADA team of investigators, who went to painstaking lengths to conduct forensic research on 23 million megabytes of data.
Regarding the forged messages, the investigators drew a forceful conclusion: The Russians were so focused on altering the messages that made them look the worst that they scoured through 11,227 of the exchanges to “identify and delete 25 highly inculpatory messages.”
“They therefore planted fabricated evidence into the 2019 ... database that would allow them to blame those discrepancies on Dr Rodchenkov, Dr Sobolevsky” and another worker, the report said. “Such bad faith is indeed stunning, and ... it provides a lens through which the explanations offered by the Russian authorities for the following subsequent events should be observed.”
On Tuesday, the day after the release of WADA’s conclusions — along with the recommendation to ban the Russian flag and its dignitaries, but not all of its athletes, from the next two Olympics — the reactions out of Russia were varied.
Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called it the latest attempt among Western efforts “to put Russia in a defensive position accused of pretty much everything in every sphere of international life.”
But Yuri Ganus, the head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, said the sanctions “were to be expected, and they’re justified.”
RUSADA was basically the only Russian actor that came off relatively unscathed in the WADA report, in large part because it has been totally revamped in the wake of the scandal.
But as the report spells out in alarming detail, the government was busy trying to cover its tracks and tell new stories right up until WADA packed up the data and took it away.
WADA’s executive committee is scheduled to review the report on Dec. 9 and decide whether to accept the sanctions recommended by the compliance review committee.