Russian state sponsored doping 'beautiful in its simplicity'
By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - A system of state sponsored doping was "beautiful in its simplicity, Richard McLaren told Reuters after releasing an explosive report on Monday that detailed widespread doping and manipulation of tests by Russian athletes and officials.
According to the World Anti-Doping Agency's independent commission report led by McLaren, Russian authorities developed a simple system that allowed a Moscow laboratory to routinely alter positive tests results to negative.
McLaren described the system as a "failsafe" last line of defence in disposing of a positive test if a doped elite athlete did not achieve protection during the sample collection and transportation process.
"It was a simple but effective and efficient method for the Deputy Minister of Sport, Yuri Nagornykh, to force the lab to report any positive finding as a negative result," explained McLaren. "Laboratory staff were under strict instructions to report all positive results to the Ministry of Sport whatever the circumstances.
"From late 2011 onwards the Ministry would be informed by a liaison person who would advise Mr. Nagornykh of every positive analytical finding in the Moscow lab, including the athletes name.
'This information was passed up the chain of command regardless for all sport disciplines.
"The order would then come back to save or quarantine."
If the order was to save, laboratory personnel would report the sample as negative to WADA and simply falsify the result in the Laboratory Information Management System.
If the order came back to quarantine, the athletes positive test would processed in accordance with WADA international standards.
McLaren's investigation team captured a total of 577 positive screening reports and determined that the Ministry of Sport ordered a save in 312 cases and quarantine in 265.
While doped Russian athletes could compete on home soil without fear of detection, international competitors were left to face WADA testing procedures.
At the 2013 IAAF world championships in Moscow, McLaren's investigation uncovered an email chain with the clear order: "All foreigners - quarantine!"
McLaren said the failsafe system within the Moscow lab was in operation for 2013 IAAF world championships, the 2013 World University Games in Kazan, the 2015 world swimming championships and the preparation for the Russian Olympic team in the run up to the 2012 London Summer Games.
"The disappearing positive methodology (positive tests) worked well to cover up doping except at the international events where independent observers were present, such as the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi," said McLaren. "For Sochi Russia needed a different methodology."
While Moscow lab operated in simplicity the plan developed to avoid positive tests at the Sochi Olympics was something out of a James Bond spy novel complete with clandestine late night swapping of samples and a method to crack into sealed bottles developed by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) or former-KGB.
McLaren's investigative team chose 95 samples from lists of protected athletes, certain Russian medal winners stored in a Lausanne laboratory after the Sochi Games and from that pool selected 11 sample bottles.
The investigation found that all 11 had been tampered with scratches and marks on the inside of the bottle caps indicating a tool had been used to open them.
"Of the set of samples I suspected of being swapped, 100 percent have evidence of tampering," said McLaren. "Sochi was a unique situation.
"It was needed because of the presence of the international community in the labs. It enable Russian athletes to compete dirty while being certain that their samples would be reported clean."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)