Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the presidential council for physical culture and sports in the southern city of Krasnodar, Russia, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. (Sergei Karpukhin/Pool Photo via AP)

Putin says whistleblowing on doping echoes Stalin's purges

May 23, 2017 - 1:27 pm

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that plans to encourage athletes to give evidence about doping remind him of denunciations during Josef Stalin's purges.

While discussing a new plan of measures to fight drug use in sports, drawn up by a commission that Putin created last year, the Russian president was sharply critical of a section on encouraging whistleblowers.

"We know well that this institution (of whistleblowing), very sadly, is linked to tragic pages in the history of our country. This institution is linked to Stalin's mass political repression," he said.

During the 1930s, many in the Soviet Union were executed on trumped-up charges based on accusations by neighbors.

Putin added he was prepared to tolerate whistleblowers in sports if the World Anti-Doping Agency "insists on it," but he opposed them in other areas of public life.

"We have to be very cautious and careful in our attitude to this, obviously bearing in mind the overall beneficial goal to which this work, this plan, is dedicated," he said. "That is, forming a zero-tolerance attitude to doping, ensuring Russian sport is clean."

Testimony from Russian athletes and former anti-doping officials formed a key part of WADA investigations which led to restrictions on the Russian team in several sports at last year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

WADA alleged that doping was widespread in numerous sports, with Russian government officials and staff at a drug-test laboratory in Moscow conspiring to cover it up.

Russia's track and field team was almost completely banned, and its weightlifting team was excluded entirely. The issue of how many Russians will be able to compete at next year's Winter Olympics is still unresolved, given that Russian officials are accused of manipulating drug test samples at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Several athletes and ex-officials who gave WADA evidence of Russian doping have left the country, saying they feared for their safety.

The Russian anti-doping commission's report defended the government, saying it played no role in covering up drug use, as alleged by a WADA investigator last year. Putin praised the commission in general terms, thanking its chair, 82-year-old former International Olympic Committee member, Vitaly Smirnov.

The commission's report called for new measures to claw back prize money from drug cheats and to restore trust in Russian athletes. It also admitted some coaches used "any means" to propel their athletes to victory.

"Prevention mechanisms and campaigns did not work," Smirnov told Putin and top sports officials in the southern city of Krasnodar. "It doesn't matter how many years have passed — any benefits from state or non-state structures will have to be returned."

Smirnov's commission said in its report that Russian legislation lacked teeth to force dopers to give back unfairly-obtained earnings, and argued for the law to be changed to make this easier.

Track athletes from other countries have complained that Russian dopers have clung onto large sums of prize money after being disqualified from major championships .

Besides prize money from competitions, Russian athletes often get lavish rewards from the state.

Gold medalists from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, for example, received 4 million rubles ($70,000) from a public-private fund, plus a white BMW SUV in a ceremony at the Kremlin. Regional governments also gave many apartments and, in one case, even a horse.

Besides confiscating dopers' rewards, the commission called for extra drug testing, and more access for drug testers to Russia's so-called "closed cities," where some athletes train in military facilities and access for outsiders is heavily restricted. Testing athletes based there is a particular bugbear for WADA.

Ex-dopers have been given government and coaching jobs and celebrated as "heroes" in Russian media, Smirnov complained. "We have to put an end to this."

Putin called last year for the commission to be set up and nominated Smirnov as its head, calling him a figure with an "unimpeachable" reputation.

The commission said its reforms could help in "restoring trust in Russian sport in Russian and global society."

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