The World Anti-Doping Agency is calling for all Russian athletes to be banned from the upcoming Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro in light of an independent report, released Monday, that confirmed allegations of a state-sponsored conspiracy to manipulate a testing lab at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
The agency's recommendations include that the international Olympic and Paralympic committees consider declining Russian athletes entry into the Games and that Russian government officials be denied access to international competitions.
The call follows the release a report that outlines the findings of an investigation into allegations that the Russian government oversaw the manipulation of the doping control process at the Sochi Olympics, first made by CBS's 60 Minutes and the New York Times in May.
The most recent investigation, led by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, was meant to determine whether or not urine samples within the Sochi testing laboratory were tampered with, which athletes may have benefited from positive doping tests, as well as whether the same things were happening at the Moscow laboratory.
"We always want universal inclusion at the Olympic Games, but we can't be blind to the evidence before us, and if we – as those who cherish the Olympic values – are not preparing for all potential outcomes, then we are not fulfilling our promise to clean athletes."
The report outlines damning evidence that the Moscow lab operated under the instruction of the Russian government to protect Russian athletes who tested positively for doping, that the Sochi lab operated a "unique sample swapping methodology to enable doped Russian athletes to compete at the Games," and that Russia's Ministry of Sport was directly involved in the manipulation of doping test results and sample swapping, with the help of the Federal Security Service, the Center of Sports Preparation of National Teams of Russia, and both the Moscow and Sochi labs.
At a press conference in Toronto, McLaren said that the report's key findings were proven "beyond a reasonable doubt."
"I have unwavering confidence in the report," he said.
WADA's call for a ban on Russian entries echoes a recently leaked letter from U.S. and Canadian anti-doping officials, addressed to the International Olympic Committee in anticipation of the McLaren report.
The letter, which drew criticism from some including the president of the European Olympic Committee who called the move "premature" and said it "seems to have been an attempt to agree [on] an outcome before any evidence has been presented," also called for Russian athletes to be prohibited from competing in the Games.
The criticism prompted a statement of defense from USADA's CEO Travis Tygart.
"We always want universal inclusion at the Olympic Games, but we can't be blind to the evidence before us, and if we – as those who cherish the Olympic values – are not preparing for all potential outcomes, then we are not fulfilling our promise to clean athletes," he said.
The report, WADA's recommendations, and the leaked letter from Canadian and American officials, all put pressure on the IOC to act quickly ahead of the Games, which are set to begin on August 5.
While WADA doesn't have the power to impose bans on athletes, its recommendations to governing bodies have resulted in such actions being taken previously — in November, for example, Russian track and field athletes were suspended by the International Association of Athletics Federations upon a similar call by the agency, meaning they cannot compete in Rio, although that ban is now being contested by Russia. It's expected that a special appeal court will hear the cases of 68 Russian athletes later this week.
A separate investigation found that a system, in which the Russian government was also implicated, had been set up to help athletes who were doping on that team,
The McLaren report, which looked into all sports, found that the findings applied to a "wide range of disciplines," and that a system had been set up following the 2010 Winter Olympics, which "allowed the transformation of a positive result to a negative one, overseen by the Deputy Minister of Sport."
Fifty-four percent of positive urine samples from Russian athletes were replaced by false positives, with the Minister of Sport deciding who would be protected, McLaren found.
The investigation also found evidence of sample swapping, with signs of tampering on bottle caps present on all tested samples, McLaren said.
When 60 Minutes and the New York Times looked into Russia's doping practices in May, they found that urine samples were collected when athletes weren't doping and subsequently swapped through a concealed hole in the lab wall, with table salt added to the urine. McLaren's investigation confirmed that caps on the samples checked had been removed, and unusually high levels of salt were detected.
Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk