In a recent interview published by the Associated Press, Vladimir Putin spoke with Olympic historian David Miller about a wide range of Olympics issues including anti-doping. In many ways, the interview is exactly what you'd expect from a world leader active in the global sport movement: the Olympics held in his country went well, the Olympics are a good thing, and sports and politics should never be mixed (which, right).
But there was one bit that's worth examining. When asked about anti-doping, Putin acknowledged that Russia's record has a few blemishes. "We have to admit that we have several cases of proven doping violation," he said in one of the modern era's great understatements, and went on to deny that Russia ever had a state-run doping program, as detailed in the McLaren Reports.
Putin then shifted the discussion to therapeutic use exemptions, or TUEs: "One of the most serious issues is therapeutic use exemption (TUEs). We do not want sport to become competition between different kinds of stimulators, most of which are highly dangerous for athletes' health, do we?"
Now, it's surely quite the, ahem, coincidence that Putin brings up TUEs, given that the hacking group Fancy Bear, which is also known by several other monikers such as APT28, and widely believed to be linked to the Russian government has hacked three different sports bodies—the World Anti-Doping Agency, the United States Anti-Doping Agency, and the IAAF—and then leaked TUEs for prominent Western athletes. What an amazing set of circumstances that Putin also views TUEs as a threat to clean sport!
That being said, Putin isn't totally wrong. We have known since long before Fancy Bears that some athletes do indeed abuse the TUE system in order to take performance-enhancing substances under the guise of legitimate medical needs. I can see why Putin would resent the TUE system. It's basically the front door to doping; you have to knock, talk to whoever answers the door, but you might be able to wriggle your way in, and if you manage to get inside, you did it legally. Russia opted for breaking and entering, which is quicker and easier, but if you get caught, you're going to jail. Russia got caught, and now they resent anyone who went through the front door, legitimately or not.
While TUEs are a problem, they're nowhere near the affront to anti-doping efforts as, say, the kind of widespread clandestine operation to falsify testing results that the McLaren Reports found Russia was doing before and after the Sochi Games. Further, there's very little evidence that the substances taken by athletes today are uniquely dangerous to athlete health, as Putin claims, beyond the health risks of elite sport in general. To Putin's point, it's far riskier to give athletes substances without informing them of the risks or, hell, what they're actually taking, as Russia did. Fair play or not, TUEs must be approved by medical doctors for use by an athlete, who knows exactly what they're ingesting. Putin is a master of concern-trolling, but this isn't his best work. Maybe he's saving that for the next election.