By Adrian Warner
GLASGOW, Scotland (Reuters) - Russia's new anti-doping chief Vitaly Smirnov told WADA on Sunday that the country had “never had a state-sponsored system of doping” as the date for the publication of a new special report into alleged Russian cheating was announced.
Smirnov, a senior figure in Soviet and Russian sport as an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member from 1971 to 2015, told a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Foundation meeting of delegates from governments and the Olympic world, that the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs was a global problem.
"Russia has never had a state-sponsored system of doping. Doping is not the problem of one specific country. We have to fight this evil together,” he said.
Afterwards Smirnov told reporters: “If one person is a criminal, it does not mean the whole country is a criminal. We know this system did not exist.”
WADA recommended that the entire Russian team be excluded from the Rio Olympics in August after accusing the country of a systemic state-sponsored doping program in its independent report by Richard McLaren, published just before the Games.
Although Russian track and field athletes as well as weightlifters were banned from Rio, the IOC rejected the proposal of a blanket ban and instead let international sports federations decide which athletes should be eligible to compete.
WADA Director General Olivier Niggli told the meeting that a second report from Canadian lawyer McLaren was set to be published on Dec 9. It is expected to provide more detail on the alleged Russian cheating and focus more on winter sports.
Former WADA chairman Dick Pound, who oversaw the initial investigation together with McLaren, expressed surprise at Smirnov's comments.
“From the Russian side, it is important to stop denying and now get back on line,” Pound told reporters.
WADA has been working with Russia to make changes to its drug-testing program since the Rio Olympics.
Rob Koehler, who is in charge of the monitoring, said Russia was making some progress but international testers were still not getting access to some cities or to previous test samples and there were challenges around gaining information about athletes’ whereabouts.
“It is not all gloom and doom and there is progress," Koehler told the meeting.
WADA agreed at the meeting to rewrite its rule to allow it to hand out punishments to countries which do not comply with its code in the future.
Delegates approved a new graded system of sanctions against drug-testing organizations and international federations. In the worst case of deliberately circumventing the rules, countries could also be banned from hosting major events and athletes would be stopped from competing unless they could prove they had undergone a rigorous anti-doping program.
Britain's Craig Reedie, who was re-elected as World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) President for a second three-year term on Sunday, said the rules needed to be finalised after consultation with sporting bodies.
But he told a news conference "There is quite clearly a feeling that this should be done. It started with athletes and has been picked up by governments. Today I was particularly pleased that the sports movement said ‘well done we are heading into the right direction’.
“It is not the finished article. We have to change the code and that will involve consultation. But I think we have started in the right way.”
The delegates also backed a new whistleblower program, which comes into force January. This will offer financial incentives to participants and encourage reporting, manage claims and protect whistleblowers. WADA also plans to expand its investigations department.
(Editing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)