Vladimir Putin uncharacteristically criticized Russia’s anti-doping system on Wednesday, noting in a meeting with some of the country’s top officials that the “system has failed.”
Putin, who made his comments (via Russian news agency TASS) while discussions preparations for the 2019 World Winter Universiade, went on to advise Russia to “heed the demands of the independent [McLaren] commission,” which alleged the country ran a state-sponsored doping regimen for years.
The Russian president continued to deny the existence of the state-sanctioned system, however, he noted, “we need to admit that some cases of doping have really been detected” and “doping is completely unacceptable.”
WADA President Craig Reedie welcomed Putin’s remarks in a statement released later Wednesday, calling his words a “sign of progress from the highest political levels.”
“Since November 2015, the Agency, UK Anti-Doping and others have been working hard in supporting Russia’s efforts to rebuild a credible anti-doping system,” Reedie said. “This public admission by Russian President Vladimir Putin that their ‘anti-doping system has failed’ is an important step in the right direction.”
Despite his admission of flaws in Russia’s anti-doping regimen, Putin remained adamant that the country never ran a state-sanctioned program to cover up the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs in its athletes.
“There has never been any institutional conspiracy to conceal positive doping tests in Russia and there never will be,” he said (via TASS). “On the contrary, doping will only be fought against.”
Putin also denied some of the detailed findings in the report, including evidence that suggests the samples were tampered with.
“We don’t accept allegations about some scratches on sample bottles for evidence, because when they were submitted, no one protested,” Putin said. “If they saw any scratches, they should have mentioned it in their protocols, but it was not done. It means, the bottles have been stored somewhere but we are not responsible for the storage.”
Since the McLaren report came out in November 2015, dozens of Russian athletes have been retroactively banned or suspended from their sports, resulting in more than 20 athletes losing their Olympic medals.
Current Russian athletes also have been affected by the allegations, which resulted in the IAAF imposing a ban on Russian track and field athletes from competing in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this past summer.
While some Russian athletes have applied to compete under a neutral flag in the meantime, Russia as a whole remains banned from international competition.
IAAF said earlier this month it expects to lift the ban at some point, but not until the country met all the requirements for reinstatement, including issuing an “appropriate official response” to the McLaren findings “either by convincingly rebutting the findings or acknowledging and properly addressing them.”
IAAF has not commented on Putin’s latest remarks.