Russian doping investigator McLaren hits back at critics

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Doping investigator Richard McLaren has defended his report into orchestrated Russian doping from what he called "nitpicking."

Recent comments by sports bodies, including the IOC, refer to inadequate translations of Russian documents and the likelihood some disciplinary cases will fail among athletes implicated in the investigation

"If you can't attack the base then let's go and attack the periphery," McLaren told The Associated Press in an interview on Monday.

The Canadian lawyer spoke on the sidelines of a World Anti-Doping Agency conference one hour after he sat in the audience and heard Russia's sports minister suggest the evidence against individual athletes "is not sufficient."

"Much of the comments that are being made are nitpicking about the small parts," McLaren told the AP. "The substance of the merits of what I had to deal with have not really been challenged."

McLaren detailed in two reports last year an orchestrated program of cheating that involved the Russian ministry of sport, FSB security service and national sports and anti-doping bodies. The plot helped the home team win medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and 2013 track and field world championships in Moscow.

Issues raised in recent weeks over the quality of translations by McLaren's Russian-speaking staff were "a complete red herring to obfuscate and disguise what is going on," he said.

McLaren said his task on being appointed by WADA last May was to verify claims of a state plot by former Moscow laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov, who led the Sochi Olympic lab, and not to prove doping cases against more than 1,000 Russian athletes.

"What is happening now is trying to turn the mandate into something it never was," McLaren said. "You can't turn an examination of a system into a whole lot of individual cases."

Earlier at the WADA event, Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov reiterated his country's denials that the doping program was state-controlled — a claim he said Monday that even McLaren had withdrawn.

A description in McLaren's interim report last July of a "state-dictated failsafe system" to cover up doping cases became an "institutionalized" conspiracy in his final report published in December.

McLaren said he and Kolobkov had previously spoken about changing the language at Russia's request because it implied a plot that implicated state president Vladimir Putin "and his inner circle."

"I decided that I would accept their view," McLaren told the AP. "It is not necessarily the view I would have or that others might have of what is 'state-sponsored.'"

Still, McLaren insisted the change of words should not undermine their impact.

"The facts were the same," he said. "There were more facts by December. No facts were changed. No facts were proven to be wrong."

More facts could have emerged but for widespread destruction of stored doping samples by Moscow lab staff, and refusals by Russian authorities to provide some documents and evidence, according to the WADA-commissioned reports. On Monday, WADA director general Olivier Niggli said there were denials of "numerous requests" for help in Russia.

McLaren said it was a frustration that these barriers were put up in Moscow, citing potential evidence lost from laboratory data banks and electronic instrument recordings, plus sports ministry records.

Kolobkov did acknowledge a problem with doping in Russia, repeating comments by Putin last week.

"We don't deny the existence of a doping program in our country," the minister told his audience of global anti-doping officials and sports federation leaders, adding Russia was cleaning house and was "ready to pass any kind of external inspection" to restore trust.

However, Kolobkov sought to blame Rodchenkov, who has sought refuge in the United States, where he is under criminal investigation by the FBI.

McLaren suggested pressure from American law enforcement on the Russian scientist was a reason to believe his testimony.

"If he doesn't (tell me the truth), the consequences are likely to be a loss of visa status in the United States and he would be deported," McLaren said. "That's a very powerful incentive to tell the truth."

Though his work could yet lead Russia to be banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics, McLaren did not offer a view on what the IOC should do.

"It is for others to take the information and act on it," he said. "They have got the report."

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