Dozens of athletes expecting to compete at the coming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro could be barred from the Games, the International Olympic Committee announced Tuesday.
The IOC retested 454 doping samples from the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, it said, discovering suspicious results among 31 athletes from 12 countries and six sports. The athletes were not publicly identified Tuesday. The countries in question will be notified in coming days, according to a spokesman.
Another 250 doping samples from the 2012 Summer Games in London are due to be retested, officials said, announcing broad scrutiny of athletes who have competed in recent Olympic Games.
The announcement came in the wake of a detailed account last week by the former longtime director of Russia’s anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov, who said he worked for years at the direction of the Russian government to help the country’s top athletes use banned, performance-enhancing substances and go undetected.
Rodchenkov told The New York Times that Russian athletes had doped leading up to the 2008 Beijing Games, the 2012 London Games and throughout the course of the 2014 Sochi Games, when Russia controlled the Olympic testing laboratory. He described an overnight operation in which he and a small team had substituted Russian athletes’ tainted urine for clean urine, stockpiled in the months leading up to competition and passed surreptitiously through a hole in the wall of the lab building.
Reacting to that account, the IOC called a special meeting of its executive board, which convened by phone Tuesday. In a statement released after that call, the IOC addressed Rodchenkov’s claims, repeating its calls for the World Anti-Doping Agency to initiate “a fully fledged investigation into allegations that testing at the Sochi Laboratory was subverted.”
After his account was made public, Rodchenkov wrote a letter to WADA and the IOC last week, offering to guide investigators in their scrutiny of Russian athletes’ samples from the Sochi Games to verify his account. While retesting those samples would show no traces of banned drugs, he said, the table salt he added to the urine samples in question, to mask certain inconsistencies, would confirm his story.
On Tuesday, the IOC promised its cooperation with an investigation into the Sochi testing operation, noting that it would instruct the laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the urine samples of Sochi medalists are stored, to assist WADA with any analysis it might undertake.
After the IOC’s announcement Tuesday, WADA said that it would assign a team to investigate Rodchenkov’s story. That team, the organization said, will be led by Mathieu Holz, WADA’s investigations manager, who is a former major of the French gendarmerie and Interpol agent. The group is expected to produce a report once its inquiry is complete.
“The measures we are taking following the worrying allegations against the laboratory in Sochi are another major step to protect the clean athletes irrespective of any sport or nation,” Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, said Tuesday. “Dopers have no place to hide.”
But even with new scrutiny of athletes’ past performance and the possible ejection of Olympians who have doped from the Rio Games, which start Aug. 5, questions hang over the Olympic drug-testing operation.
The glass bottles used since 2000 to store athletes’ urine at the Games have long been hailed as tamper-proof. According to Rodchenkov, however, the Russian intelligence service was able to break into them and go undetected.
And like the Moscow lab that Rodchenkov ran, the Rio laboratory that will handle testing at the Games has a history of falling out of favor with global anti-doping authorities.
The lab’s accreditation was revoked by WADA in 2013 and restored just last year, in preparation for the Olympics. Even amid economic and political turmoil, the Brazilian government has committed roughly 200 million Brazilian real (about $60 million) to outfitting the lab with the latest scientific equipment.
Still, according to Rodchenkov, even with cutting-edge equipment and dozens of lab staff from around the world, the integrity of an anti-doping lab cannot be guaranteed.
“People are celebrating Olympic champion winners, but we are sitting crazy and replacing their urine,” Rodchenkov said, reflecting on the nights he spent secretly working in a storage closet at the Sochi Games. “Can you imagine how Olympic sport is organized?”
Separate of the IOC’s announcement, the Russian Weightlifting Federation announced on Tuesday that four Russian weight lifters, among them a world-record holder, had been suspended for doping.