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In light of recent scandals in global sports institutions, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has shared his position in an exclusive interview with TASS.
On his English language skills, problems in Russian athletics, “gentleman’s agreement” of Blatter and future plans
- How are you, mister Mutko?
- Is this all, Vitaly Leontievich? You promised five years ago to learn English and speak the language like Britain’s Jeffrey Thompson.
- Listen… It was humor! I will explain it once again. Delivering a speech in Zurich in December 2010 to FIFA Executive Committee’s members, I said that - if you entrust Russia with the World Cup in 2018, I will learn speaking English just like our friend Jeff. My colleagues understood the joke. Moreover, some of them carried on with the joke saying – do not learn speaking like Thompson as he is the native speaker and swallows words’ endings while it is much easier to understand you Vitaly.
So you may say that I already cope with the English language. More or less, I am able to communicate with my colleagues and answer questions of foreign journalists. I certainly use help of interpreters when I am discussing serious issues and there is always simultaneous interpreting at sessions of the FIFA Executive Committee. Nevertheless, I do understand everything that I need and I mean what I say.
- What will you say in regard to IAAF and WADA, which accused the Russian athletics of grave wrongdoings? It is either our enemies are slanderous or...
- Yes, the All-Russia Athletics Federation membership has been temporarily suspended… This was no surprise for us. Anyway this is not a tragedy. The passenger jet’s crash on Sinai or the terrorist attack on Paris are horrible tragedies. And the IAAF provisional decision is a minor trouble and we will overcome it, of course…
A lot was said in this regard over the recent days, including by myself. I would not like to repeat myself. It is very hard for me making commentaries on the arrest of Lamine Diack, the former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations. I learnt from media about the news that he was accused of taking a bribe from our athletics federation. I hope that the current investigation will reveal what the truth and fiction is.
Speaking about the report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the IAAF ruling. First of all, this is not the end of the story. A meeting of founders of the World Anti-Doping Agency will take place on Tuesday or Wednesday but one can already guess what exactly they would say. Everything was predestined not on Friday the 13th but much earlier. Some time ago I received a notification saying that the WADA [Independent] Commission intended to publish its findings of the inspection it held since last year’s December in regard to Russian field and track athletes. I was asked to suspend all those involved in something illegal. I asked a logical question in response: 'Misters, based on what do you want me to ban athletes?' Fabricated wiretap recordings are no proof. The initial cause to launch the investigation was a film of [German] television channel ARD. It alleged that an overwhelming majority of Russian medalists and winners of major tournaments over the past ten years had suspicious doping samples. What a massive allegation!
Why such scrupulous attention towards Russia? The explanation is simple if we set aside geopolitics. Yulia Stepanova (Rusanova by maiden name), who was enlisted in the Russian athletics national team and whom we suspended for doping abuse, started working for WADA three years ago. Now she lives in Germany and, as far as we know, is waiting for Canada residence permit. I always try to think well of people but there is a term “stool pigeon” in the anti-doping code. Mrs. Stepanova assures that nobody hired her and she did everything on her own initiative. But can you imagine a person paying own money to purchase cutting-edge eavesdropping and video surveillance equipment, which can be stealthily planted into a ladies handbag or any other personal belonging? The question is why all this of specialized equipment was needed? It turned out that it was needed all that time to secretly record everything that was going on the Russian national team. Stepanova would ask coaches questions from a questionnaire somebody worked out for her and would engage her teammates in the so-called warm-hearted conversations. But in reality she would induce girls into confessions about their alleged use of doping and other prohibited substances.
Then some sort of specialists listened to the recordings and the tapes went further to ARD. The Germans made a two-part film. It appears to be documentary, but in reality it turned out to be a science-fiction with elements of a thriller. It gives an impression that Russia is rotten in doping abuse bordering on the government-authorized level and that I personally invite athletes to my office and manipulate them here. Understand?
- But earlier this year the facts concerning the Saransk race walkers from Viktor Chegin’s Center turned out to be true.
- True, it was an unpleasant story, but why should we put everything into a single bucket and make a system out of a single incident? Did we either spare or even shelter the coach? He was punished deservedly despite all of his previous merits.
Within several years we accomplished more in cleaning the sport than any other country could do in decades
Look here, in 2006 Russia signed the Anti-Doping Convention, passed relative domestic legislature and within several years we accomplished more in cleaning the sport than any other country could do in decades. Do you know that before 2009 no doping control officer could cross our border? No one would let him come here. And behind the closed doors anything can be done to athletes. Nobody brought global claims against us at that time. But they emerged when Russia opened itself to the world. We established the RUSADA non-commercial partnership and keep sustaining it financially with a five million euro subsidy from the budget. We are paying a yearly fee of one million to WADA, we have set up the anti-doping laboratory in Moscow and it functions in line with the ADAMS system. When I became minister, it was located in some basement. We spent one billion rubles on the Russian president’s order to build ultramodern headquarters and to purchase all the necessary equipment. The laboratory has become a leader at WADA during the past years. It underwent recertification every year and was ranked six under the five-grade scale. Russia hosted IAAF and FINA world championships, the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, and everything was fine. At some point I proposed the following: the laboratory has 25 staff members, let’s hire foreigners on key positions to exclude any possibility of a fraud. Let there be your doping-control officers and we have no objections!
But what has suddenly changed? Maybe, WADA is having fast days? I met with members of Richard Pound’s commission in Zurich in September and told them –‘My dear colleagues, Russia has implemented all of your requirements. What else do you want from us? Perhaps, I should dance on the table for you to like me more?’”
Moscow laboratory’s director Grigory Rodchenkov was forced to resign but, you know, he is a real scientist, an expert in his sphere and his deputy won a grant in the US and got a personal research laboratory in Los Angeles. Hope the man will not be fired after my statement. I don’t want to overload you with details, so the last thing is that RUSADA is ranked world’s second in the number of registered blood passports. Professionals would explain to you that these results cannot be replaced or forged.
The Russian team of 53 Olympic sports has 3,000 people and over 2,000 of them are in the so-called international testing pool which has nothing to do with us
The Russian team of 53 Olympic sports has 3,000 people and over 2,000 of them are in the so-called international testing pool which has nothing to do with us. You know how busy the schedule is of star athletes. They are outside Russia for months! They would depart early for training sessions before the season and then travel between various competitions. Who is testing them abroad? We often don’t know. It may be the laboratory in Cologne or Lausanne.
Russian athletes’ number of positive doping samples equals the figure of any other leading country and it amounts to about two percent. The same figure is observed in Germany and America and 53 countries have even more disqualified athletes. But I haven’t heard of WADA commissions heading there with inspections.
But the Russian field and track athletes are now threatened with new exposures and absence at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro! A ‘Black Spot’ seems to be handed over to Russia.
It seemed that those Russians lost their leading positions, dropped to the second division and then, all of a sudden – Bang! – they are back with the leaders. It is quite obvious that not everyone likes it
- The West does not like Russia?
- They cannot understand how we began winning again. It seemed that those Russians lost their leading positions, dropped to the second division and then, all of a sudden – Bang! – they are back with the leaders. It is quite obvious that not everyone likes it.
Attempts to slam Russia are a popular trend and a way to demonstrate one’s toughness. But politics should not be mixed up with sports.
- What’s going to happen next, Mr. Mutko?
- We will keep working. There is no feeling that someone has opened our eyes. The problem has been known for a long time. By the way, the WADA commission has confirmed that this concerns not only Russia and not only track and field but also other sports. The struggle should be comprehensive and overall.
Yes, not all is smooth at the ARAF. We disqualified 22 athletes last year but I repeat that this is not more than in other countries. The whole anti-doping system should be aimed at protecting honest athletes. Any sanctions should punish the wrongdoers. And the suspension of our federation can affect, for instance, Elena Isinbaeva who is getting ready for the fifth Olympics in her career or Masha Kuchina who unexpectedly beat record-holders and became world champion in Beijing.
What should they be punished for? This is a biased approach and attempt to weaken competition at the Games. Why shifting the blame?
Now they want to strip us of two tournaments. Russia may not host the World Race Walking Cup and its junior division. And who wins? Definitely, not athletes. Everybody knows well how our country can organize competitions.
I can assure you that most Russian athletes are clean
We are ready for one more ARAF reform if the measures taken earlier are dissatisfying. We replaced the national federation’s chief, sacked the head coach and purged the system. We sent a renewed team of 70 people to the 2015 world championship in Beijing, and representatives of sports which aroused doubts were not included. For example, the race walkers did not come. We showed the world that we want honest victories. I can assure you that most Russian athletes are clean. We just asked the IAAF to protect them but it didn’t work.
I’ll take the situation at the ARAF under the toughest personal control. We will hold snap election and will be able to show a new face of the federation to the IAAF. As a matter of fact, I recently propose a radical move to President Sebastian Coe that we suspend the ARAF for six months ourselves and temporarily give its rights to the Russian Olympic Committee that will take track and field athletes to Rio. But the IAAF did not agree to this.
Olympics without Russia are like a wedding without music
- But will our runners and jumpers go to Brazil as a result?
- I’d like to calm everyone down. Just don’t doubt. Olympics without Russia are like a wedding without music. This will kill all sport principles.
I’ll tell you honestly: the problem is not with us but with international sports organizations. They have to be examined and reformed. Ministers in all countries change from time to time and members of the IOC, FIFA, UEFA hold their positions for decades. Until they are eighty or older. They are doing well and stable… I think the ARAF suspension is an attempt to avoid solving problems. By suspending us they can please many, including politicians among Russia’s “friends” and rivals in sports…
The global sports leaders should take control of the situation and not allow “independent commissions,” English newspapers and German TV channels to manipulate them
The global sports leaders should take control of the situation and not allow “independent commissions,” English newspapers and German TV channels to manipulate them… But this is a topic for another discussion.
Yes, we had two paths to follow in the situation of the doping scandal: a tough response up to defending our interests in court. And we would see who won. But Vladimir Putin gave different instructions. He rejected confrontation and told us to search for compromise and ways of interaction with international federations. That’s what we are going to do. We don’t need any more sensations. Our key purpose is to protect athletes and personally punish those guilty.
As for Rio, these will be tough Olympics, undoubtedly. We continue preparations and training work, although the main burden is borne by the sports federations as the Sports Ministry cannot and must not substitute them and this contradicts the IOC Charter. Yes, indeed, we have problems in our traditional medal-winning sport disciplines. We need to raise the performance level in rowing, rifle and pistol shooting, swimming and athletics. It is becoming ever more difficult to win even in sport disciplines where we traditionally dominate. The majority is tired that Russia keeps taking gold in synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics. That is why, they invent new rules, change work procedures to complicate our life. We’re coping with the task so far but competition is rising.