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World Anti-Doping Agency Wants Russia Suspended From Athletics Competitions

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

A new report by the World Anti-Doping Agency says Russia's Olympic athletes routinely use performance-enhancing drugs, and the Russian government has been covering it up. That watchdog, known as WADA, is recommending that Russia's athletic federation be suspended from world competition, which could mean its athletes would be barred from next year's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Despite 323 pages of detailed allegations, a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin today pronounced the charges, quote, "quite groundless." For more, we've reached NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow. Good morning.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And tell us more about this investigation and the report, which is quite a bombshell in world sports.

FLINTOFF: Absolutely. This investigation came as a shocker because it says basically that the Russian government was involved in doping in athletics. It says gold medals were stolen at the 2012 Olympics. It says Russian athletic officials are accused of bribery and covering up positive doping results. It is a bombshell.

MONTAGNE: One of the specifics is pretty stunning. The report says Russian doping sabotaged the 2012 Olympics in London. How so?

FLINTOFF: The report says Russia and the international group, the International Association of Athletic Federations, permitted athletes to compete in the London games even though they had what were called suspicious doping profiles. And this touches some of Russia's biggest track stars, including Mariya Savinova, the gold medalist in the 800 meters. The report says she should be banned from the sport for life, along with four other top Russian athletes and four coaches and an administrator. It also says that Russia's drug testing lab prescreened these drug samples, switched samples to cover up evidence of doping, and it even destroyed 1,400 samples just a few days before inspectors were due to come and check out the lab.

MONTAGNE: Well, how is Russia responding to all of this?

FLINTOFF: Well, Russian officials are basically downplaying the results. The head of the Russian athletic federation says WADA doesn't have the authority to prevent Russia from taking part in world sports. The head of that Russian doping lab actually called the WADA investigators "idiots," and that's a quote. And he said they have no proof for their claims. The report actually accuses him of taking bribes to cover up doping results. And Russia's sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, said what many Russian officials are saying, which is basically that Russia's being singled out for political reasons and persecuted for something that everyone else in world athletics does.

MONTAGNE: The international umbrella group for sports federation is also being criticized here. What are - what are they doing?

FLINTOFF: The International Association of Athletics Federations' president, he's Sebastian Coe. You might remember he was a gold medalist runner in the Olympics in the 1980s. He says that he's given the Russians a week to respond to these allegations, or they could face suspension. Coe is really under pressure to show that he's taking decisive action here. And WADA will decide next week whether to suspend Russia's anti-doping agency.

MONTAGNE: And it has the power to do that?

FLINTOFF: It does have the power to do that. It doesn't have the power to ban Russia's federation from world sports. But it can affect the doping agency directly.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Corey Flintoff, speaking to us from Moscow, thanks very much.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.