The Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko has challenged the World Anti Doping Agency to prove that hackers from his country were responsible for the leak of records relating to some of the biggest names in American sport.
A group called Fancy Bears published confidential data relating to the Williams sisters and US gymnast Simone Biles, including details of banned substances for which they had a therapeutic use exemption.
“How can you prove that the hackers are Russian? You blame Russia for everything, it is very in fashion now,” said Mutko, speaking at the Uefa Extraordinary Congress in Athens.
Mutko was named in July by Professor Richard McLaren as having knowledge of a state sponsored doping programme across several Olympic sports, sparking calls for the Russian Olympic team to be banned from the Rio Games.
“We are also concerned because they have the same data of the Russian athletes and we can also be a victim, it doesn’t matter which athlete,” insisted Mutko.
Mutko resolutely rejected any suggestion that the Russian state was involved in the hack, which left 10,000 Wada records potentially compromised.
“All the information must be protected. Those are personal data. And we have in Russia also the protection of personal data so if somebody hacks and opens the data this person will be criminally prosecuted,” said Mutko, who also remains on Fifa’s executive committee.
“We are also concerned because they have the same data of the Russian athletes and we can also be a victim, it doesn’t matter which athlete.”
Since the first revelations about Russia’s state sponsored doping system were broadcast in December 2014, Mutko has flip flopped between acceptance and bold defiance.
The Wada president Sir Craig Reedie, who called for Russia to be banned from the Olympics in the wake of McLaren’s report, said on Wednesday that it had “pretty authoritative information” that the hackers had close connections to Russia.
“They have been attacking our system – we have been under attack for weeks. It is an attack on the system, the anti-doping system,” he told the BBC.
“It’s all rather unhelpful at the moment because I have spent the last 21 months doing nothing other than respond to independent commissions who have identified and clearly proved there are breaches of the system in Russia.”
He added: “Now Russia have claimed at the very highest level that they understand they have a problem but they still in some ways seem to be in denial and it’s really important that if we have to make the biggest country in the world compliant in anti-doping terms then this is distinctly unhelpful.”
Reedie, under pressure over the way that Wada has handled the Russian doping crisis, said that there was no indication that any of the leaked documents showed that the athletes concerned had broken any rules.
“There is a long-established system of therapeutic use exemptions – an athlete who is required to take medicine, which may be on the prohibited list, can get an exemption to do so provided it is certified properly by medical people and then certified by the relevant international federation,” he said.
“And as far as I can see in the cases that have been mentioned all that has been done and has been done correctly.”
Fancy Bears has warned that it will release other documents in the days and weeks to come. Reedie said Wada was looking at its own systems and trying to tighten security.
“We think we understand the method which is used to get in, which is false emails which trick people into giving passwords which allow access,” he said.
“All of that work is underway – I have already been in touch with contacts in sport and with the authorities in Russia. I hope that the court of world opinion will see that this is an attack on the system, that it is unwarranted and that is has to stop.”