Vitaly Mutko: «Admitting false guilt means betraying our guys»
The Deputy Prime Minister spoke about the «federal doping program», «lab director» Grigory Rodchenkov and a world with no Olympics.
Photo: Stoyan Vasev / TASS
The Deputy Prime Minister did not look confused or depressed in the light of past and upcoming events. During our almost 3-hour talk in the office of the Russia-2018 Organizational Committee, Vitaly Leontievich Mutko was as usual determined, confident in himself and his correctness and quite sincere with a measure of his signature controversiality. Of course, I didn't expect sincere confessions or repentant speeches although I myself think that we have something to apologize for.
As part of the team, Vitaly Mutko did not deviate from the Kremlin's general line. He directed his indignation, which was fair in some cases, towards external enemies, and the WADA informer Rodchenkov was not the only one.
Summarizing my general impression, it seemed to me that the Deputy Prime Minister does not believe in a positive decision by the International Olympic Committee Executive Board on the participation of the Russian national team in the upcoming Olympic games. He was, however, reserved when speaking about the IOC, perhaps he is still hoping for a miracle, or, perhaps, the home football World Cup draw had chased away unpleasant thoughts.
There is still no escape from them if the country is about to be left without the Olympics, a country that can barely imagine not only sport without the Olympics but its life as well?!
There is no collective guilt when it comes to doping
—In a nutshell, what is the current situation?
— The situation is rather alarming. A certain image of uncleanliness has been created around Russian sport. Public opinion, especially in the Western world, is now convinced that there has been a certain special state program for covering up doping for all these years. That most athletes used prohibited technologies, were forced to do so under pressure, and somehow have been involved in a criminal system.
The puzzles have come together and serious aspersions have been cast on Russian sport and, what is worse, on the Sochi Olympics. If we summarize the core of this campaign, its goal is to discredit Russian sport.
Because it is a priority of the country’s social policy, because it has authority on the global stage. Moreover, we are in the lead when it comes to most indicators including the number of major events that we host. Of course, this disconcerts some people and leads to conclusions that Russia wants to win whatever the cost and demonstrate its superiority not in fair competition but using various secret schemes.
— Is there anything else that can be done during the time that remains before the decision is made?
— If decisions on disqualifications are made almost identically and one after the other, then it is clear that the sports movement has come under immense political pressure. Very often we hear it from our colleagues that “we understand everything but we are being pressured.”
At the same time, we see that clearly and simply expressed support is increasing. The international sports federations of curling, luge, ice hockey, cross-country skiing, bobsleigh and skeleton are against the application of collective responsibility and doubt that the evidence provided is sufficient for disqualification let alone life-time disqualification. They are guided by common sense and realize that athletes must be protected since their very existence and well-being depend entirely on athletes, who unfortunately often have no opportunity to defend their good name.
How is it possible to so easily accuse Sasha Tretyakov who has dedicated himself to sport for many years of something disgraceful and on the basis of some list to deprive him of his gold Olympic medal? It undermines the very philosophy of sport and leads to a complete dead end.
— But, at the same time, we evidently have a certain degree of guilt including the responsibility of the state?
— There is no collective guilt when it comes to doping, only personal. It cannot be proven with abstract speculations. «Everyone was involved in the machinery of manipulation», «the state was behind it» — these statements repeated daily are total lies. In the modern world, such things are im-pos-sible! And if it were possible, we would require a different level of doping control quality from WADA — so that nobody cheats and opens the vials. They are paid money for this, including money earned by athletes, from the IOC, and from the countries. Judging by Rodchenkov’s interview in the New York Times, he has evidence about the London Olympics. There are tens of interviews of similar «rodchenkovs» about doping in British, Norwegian, and American sport. Why are they not investigating this?
Russia has never covered up doping and never will. But we have never said that we have no problems with it. This disease may be for the ages and is extremely complicated to combat.
Don’t the IOC and WADA know about loopholes? Don’t they know that there are sophisticated technologies for victories? And our competitors use these technologies much more effectively.
The degree of our guilt is mainly that we should have pursued a tougher policy with regard to doping. But if you are asking about the guilt of the state… In the late 2000s, we ratified the UNESCO anti-doping convention. We opened Russian borders for taking biosamples out of the country which excluded the possibility of manipulation. By the way, this forced Rodchenkov to act differently and seriously influenced his secret business — he almost had a retainer subscription service for several different sports.
— The question is whether the state could see this or not? Of course, it could not! We can not enter the laboratory, can not double-check the tests. Only the WADA experts, who are «on a white horse» now, can see this. They accredited the laboratory. They have control standards. They pay 50 thousand dollars to informers. We put our heart into preparing for the Olympics, worked really hard. And it looks like they prepared for something totally different.
We adopted a number of necessary laws that regulate anti-doping policy in Russia. We gave authority to the laboratory and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), made them independent, introduced administrative responsibility. We spent tens of millions of dollars on dues to WADA, contributions to various foundations, on creating new methods for determining prohibited substances.
We constructed a state-of-the-art laboratory in 2 years. It is the second best in the world in terms of equipment. It performed 15 thousand tests! We disqualified up to 200 people every year. We set up RUSADA on the Norwegian model, which was perfect so we were told. Then it was the state that financed its operations. Once a year this whole system was accredited by WADA. Certification documents were issued, the lab employees, including Rodchenkov, were invited to all of the Olympics as inspectors and experts. They were twice recognized as the best!
Yes, a criminal case was opened against Grigory Rodchenkov and his sister in 2011. (In April of 2011, charges under Part 3, Article 234 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation «Illegal Traffic in Potent or Toxic Substances for the Purpose of Sale by an Organized Group in Large Volume» — editorial comment) were brought against Rodchenkov. WADA asked me to personally explain what was going on with the director of the lab. We sent a request to the investigative agencies. The investigation finished. His sister who had supplied the substances was charged. We behaved toward Rodchenkov as decent people would — we live in a law-governed state after all. We received a decision that there were no claims against the person, of which we informed WADA. They replied: «OK, let them work.» You should understand that the head of the laboratory or the director of RUSADA can be appointed or discharged only with consent from WADA. As soon as they made a recommendation that we draw conclusions with regard to the irregularities in 2015, we immediately discharged him and all of the RUSADA management.
Do they really take the whole world for fools? Tretiakov, who rides head-down on a skeleton, drank some sort of “cocktail” and won?! He knows every single curve on this Sochi track plus he is an outstanding master. He came to the Olympics as the world champion. And they are telling him — a «cocktail! » I’m sick and tired of reading all this nonsense. They inject you with something today and tomorrow you are an Olympic champion. All of the most recent Olympics have been won by the hosting countries. And all of the forecasts prior to the Sochi Olympics were that Russia would be among the top 3 countries. We naturalized 8 athletes. They brought us 7 medals.
— But neither Rodchenkov nor WADA have any claims against the naturalized athletes.
— They are afraid of the court because there are people from different countries there. Does Rodchenkov alone decide everything today? He went ahead and reported: there are no questions about Adelina Sotnikova. What is he, the court? We, on the other hand, wanted to have hearings on Adelina Sotnikova. We hired one of the world’s best legal firms. You saw their press conference. They can’t believe it, they say that they have never participated in such an anti-trial.
Many of our athletes were coached by foreigners. Why don’t they invite them to the hearings? Legkov lived in Switzerland for 4 years. Won the Tour de Ski. He came to the Olympics as a World Cup and an Oslo Royal Marathon champion. And did he really need a cocktail in Sochi?
All of our Sochi Olympic winners were in the international testing pool. Why do you think the international federations do not blindly follow the IOC commission’s decisions on disqualifications? Because the athletes have been tested for all of the last 4 years, their every step has been controlled.
«He is a swindler. A charming swindler.»
— Vitaly Leontiyevich, let us go back to Grigory Rodchenkov. If it became clear as early as in 2011 that he was a dodgy person, that he was leaving a trail, that he was working on both antidoping and doping, why was he left out of sight? Such a shady character should have been closely watched by the corresponding agencies but his authority, for some reason, continued to increase?
— In no way did it continue to increase. Listen, he should have been closely watched not only by us. He should have been closely watched by them! He is a narrowly focused specialist, he was called everywhere, he shuttled around the world, gave lectures. He is an established authority in their system.
—But he had already fallen under suspicion here!
— We had signals, we looked into it. We controlled it and kept WADA informed. But they confirmed his status all the time. There are things that are difficult to respond to. How do you detect treachery?
—OK, and what about Rodchenkov’s correspondence? It was recognized as authentic after all. He carried on a dialog with certain representatives of the Ministry of Sport and on some highly sensitive issues. He touches upon specific athletes and specific people participated in «evasions.»
— All of these things require investigation. The Russian Investigative Committee declared that it is ready to verify the authenticity of these statements together with those who are investigating on the other side. It is not me who should make a judgment as to who wrote to whom. If you take a reference to me in an electronic message to a certain person as evidence what else is there to say? It all looks as if this «physical evidence» were made up. We have no evidence but we think that the sample was opened — isn’t this primitive?
They are saying that Rodchenkov should be trusted because if he tells lies, he will be expelled from America. And what if it is the opposite: if he tells the truth, then they will really expel him? His diaries are being made to fit the known facts. Well, invite those people who Rodchenkov mentions to the hearings — no, nobody wants to listen. I came to a session of an IOC commission and said, «Here I am in front of you, and I will answer whatever questions you may have. But can I see those who are accusing me? Can I ask them questions? » No answer.
—But you have retrospectively admitted that some of the claims were correct by firing your deputy Nagornykh, and an advisor on anti-doping issues Natalia Zhelanova?
— Nagornov, Zhelanova and many other officials were fired after there was information about the first system failure in the anti-doping program. And not because any of the claims against them were proven. They were just responsible for the fight against doping.
And Rodchenkov really hated Zhelanova. She was the only one who immediately said about Rodchenkov, «He is a swindler. A charming swindler.» He is taking revenge on her. When I was firing him, he asked me not to do it and offered to «blow up» the IOC and WADA with compromising material that only he knew about. He claimed that he knew everything about them. I told him that we do not need any war and he should pursue science, write books, teach. I told the WADA head Craig Reedie about this conversation. I expressed an apprehension that Rodchenkov would be able to reverse everything. His reply was reassurance that they would not take into consideration the evidence given by an unscrupulous witness. So what? I warned them that he could end up in America.
—How did he end up there — with a «nuclear bomb» in his pocket? Why did they release him so easily?
— Nobody would have released him if he were part of some program. 6 months passed and he went to America as a trustworthy person. And how did they substantiate this? He couldn’t tell the truth while in Russia but in democratic America he immediately started to speak freely. But this is utter nonsense.
—I have a very simple question: who put Grigory Rodchenkov on the list for an award for successful work at the Sochi Olympics?
— I, as the minister.
—Which means that you were satisfied with his work?
— Listen, not only Rodchenkov was put forward for an award. It was a decision by the federal committee. The IOC gave the Olympics a very high evaluation and many respected people from many different areas received awards. Yes, Grigory Rodchenkov was also praised. He published a gigantic article co-authored by a WADA representative, the director of the Lausanne laboratory with a report of his successful work. So where did he lie? In that article or in his diary?
He had an extremely enjoyable life here as a scientist of world reputation, who was recognized and exceptionally well treated. A director of an independent institution, no bosses in Russia, wonderful relations with WADA, business trips abroad every year, high salary, memberships in international committees. Well, he also worked on the side by selling different types of «vitamins», and deceived people who trusted him.
—Perhaps, he feared for his life?
— What?! He could only fear himself. He was just a lab director and didn’t play any substantial role.
The world of sports is not just the Olympic Games
— So what do you intend to do after December 5 when we hear the verdict which will, most likely, confirm the conclusions by Samuel Shmid’s commission?
— It is not the end of the world really! Everyone must understand that the world of sports is not just the Olympic Games and this decision can only be taken with regard to the Olympics. And let’s wait for it, keeping hope that fundamental sport principles will prevail over the vicious practices of collective responsibility.
But even if they suspend us, the World and European championships as well as other competitions will continue. And our sport will participate everywhere. And if they impose some sort of collective sanctions — we will support our athletes. We have always punished those who were caught using doping ourselves but in this case we do not think that guilt will be proven.
—If we are suspended from the Olympics, we will have only one silver lining left — the 2018 FIFA World Cup?
— Why only one? Tens of competitions will remain! Although if they suspend us from the Olympics, it would be very bad indeed. It would mean a split in the Olympic family, a new standard of collective responsibility through unproven facts as we see it. And what if tomorrow there is another informer, just as crazy as this one?
—Perhaps, we should have pled guilty?
— For what? For conducting the Olympic Games on a high level? For earning each of our medals with blood and sweat? To betray the guys?
—It should be said that the net of circumstantial evidence has already been woven and cast.
— There is no circumstantial evidence? Why do you take the whole world for fools? I just want everyone to understand that our patience is also running out. We can play by different rules. If they want us to play by the new rules, we will.
So should we close our professional leagues and pull out of WADA? Is this the path that they are pushing us towards?
Well, let’s take this path. The football, basketball, and hockey leagues will sign contracts with private institutions that conduct doping control without WADA and the anti-doping agencies. They will decide for themselves and nobody will know what’s going on inside them. Do you realize that they are not overseen by anyone, as is the case in America?
—Vitaly Leontiyevich, frankly speaking — has it occurred to you that you should suffer for our sport and resign in consideration of all your merits but also your blunders? Perhaps, we wouldn’t have such problems as we do today?
— I don’t think it would be any mitigation for anybody but, on the contrary, provide the accusers with more confidence. However, I am not holding on to my position.
—But I assume you can not guarantee that there will be no new disclosures in the near future or confirmations of old accusations?
— You’d better look at the results of the last year. We are under international control from the UK Anti-Doping Agency. And violations were detected only in 0.5% of the tests. Our sport wins without any doping.