Pavel Kolobkov insists that Russia still do not accept the McLaren Report ©Getty Images

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov today denied that Russia has backed down and accepted the findings of the McLaren Report, despite signing a letter sent to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which appears to go further than ever before towards doing so. 

The letter, sent to WADA last week but which has only been published today by French newspaper L'Equipe, began by conceding "the serious crisis which has affected the Russian sports was caused by some unacceptable manipulations of the anti-doping system revealed in the investigations conducted under the auspices of WADA (Pound's Independent Commission, McLaren - Independent Person) and the IOC (Schmid Commission)".

It continued by confirming they have "accepted and executed" the consequent International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board decision to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) from December last year until three days after the Closing Ceremony of the this year's Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. 

"On behalf of all the organisations we represent, we regret sincerely that some manipulations and practices occurred in Russia," it continues.

The letter then promises they are "taking necessary steps" to outline remaining problems.

The letter was co-signed by Kolobkov, ROC President Alexander Zhukov and Russian Paralympic Committee President Vladimir Lukin and addressed to WADA President Sir Craig Reedie and both Thomas Bach and Andrew Parsons, respective Presidents of the IOC and International Paralympic Committee (IPC). 

The letter then argued that "it is important to note that the recent CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) decisions caused reasonable doubts in the validity of evidence provided by the former head of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory G. [Grigory] Rodchenkov to the IOC Disciplinary Commission dealing with sanctions for individual athletes".

It conceded that "our organisations and the Russian State bear the obligation to ensure integrity in sport" under the World Anti-Doping Code, adding: "We want to ensure you that any eventual manipulation and practices were carried out without our knowledge or authorisation".

Thomas Bach, standing left, and Sir Craig Reedie, standing right, were among the recipients of the Russian letter ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach, standing left, and Sir Craig Reedie, standing right, were among the recipients of the Russian letter ©Getty Images

CAS cleared 28 of 39 Russian athletes disqualified by the IOC for doping at Sochi 2014 after ruling that the evidence was not sufficient proof of their guilt.

There is no other direct mention in the letter of the McLaren Report after the opening paragraphs and its findings are neither directly accepted or rejected.

Acceptance of the McLaren Report is one of two outstanding compliance criteria which must be fulfilled for WADA to deem the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) re-compliant with its rules.

The criteria stipulate "responsible authorities for anti-doping in Russia must publicly accept the reported outcomes of the McLaren Investigation (aka. Independent Person Investigation)".

This includes "RUSADA, the Ministry of Sport and the National Olympic Committee".

It is open to interpretation whether the letter fulfills these conditions.

Representatives of the sports movement at WADA are likely to argue it does, while those representing public authorities will inevitably say it is not enough. 

The letter remained private until being leaked today and Kolobkov's public comments appear to firmly reject the criteria.

"We have stated in our letter that we do accept the decision of the IOC, that we stand for cooperation with international organisations and are ready for a dialogue, since we are interested in the mutual development of sports," Kolobkov said according to TASS, Russia's official news agency, during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

"This decision was based on the findings of the Schmid commission, however, we disagree with the McLaren Report as it contains unsubstantiated conclusions.

"These conclusions may be declared as substantiated only in court after a thorough investigation and with irrefutable evidence in place.

"The Russian Investigative Committee keeps proceeding with its own investigation on the issue and if somebody is found guilty, the punishment is definitely to follow."

Russia has still not fulfilled the other outstanding recompliance condition, the opening-up of the Moscow Laboratory so WADA inspectors can assess samples and electronic evidence.

This is not mentioned in the letter.

Kolobkov, Zhukov and Lukin continue by quoting a speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2017 in which he described Russia's doping failures as "totally unacceptable".

Testimony by Moscow Laboratory director turned whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov is being rejected by the Russians following the Court of Arbitration for Sport decisions ©Netflix
Testimony by Moscow Laboratory director turned whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov is being rejected by the Russians following the Court of Arbitration for Sport decisions ©Netflix

Kolobkov is likely attempting to find a delicate balance between accepting WADA's requirement and pacifying a domestic audience desperate to avoid any perceived loss of face by backing-down.

The letter also highlighted reforms made in Russia, including the adoption of a law on criminal liability for inciting athletes to dope, as well as sanctioning individuals "involved in the operation of the systemic doping scheme" from having any role or influence over Russia's anti-doping efforts.

But Alexander Zubkov, a double bobsleigh gold medallist from Sochi 2014 whose disqualification after being implicated in the doping regime was upheld by CAS, is still considered the frontrunner to be re-elected Russian Bobsleigh Federation President later this year. 

"We also assure you that we fully support the investigations conducted by the Investigative Committee of Russia with respect to the alleged anti-doping rules violations," concluded the letter.

"We believe that the guilty will get the punishment they deserve under the court judgement.

"We sincerely feel that all the efforts currently undertaken by the WADA, IOC, IPC, ROC, RPC, the Russian Ministry of Sports and the Independent Public Anti-Doping Commission are bearing fruit and that the time has come for WADA to restore RUSADA in full and for the IOC and IPC and the respective international federations to admit Russian athletes to the main global sports events under the same conditions as the athletes from other countries.

"Those decisions will serve as further incentive for all acting athletes and young sportsmen in the future."

WADA's Compliance Review Committee, led by British lawyer Jonathan Taylor, is due to analyse the letter at meeting in London on June 14 before making a recommendation to the Executive Committee.

Russia's suspensions by the IPC and International Association of Athletics Federations are dependent on RUSADA compliance before they can be lifted.