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Doping: WADA urges Russia to stop hacks of top athletes

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Montreal, Canada | AFP |

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) called on Russia to help stop the hacking of its computer systems as medical records of 25 more athletes including three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome were revealed on Thursday.

The Kremlin reacted immediately by saying it was ready to help, while also denying any Russian involvement in the hacking.

“We condemn this criminal activity and have asked the Russian Government to do everything in their power to make it stop,” WADA director general Olivier Niggli said.

The hack on WADA’s computer system, Niggli said, constituted “retaliation” against the agency, which imposed heavy penalties against Russia over doping, including banning practically its entire athletics team from the Rio Olympics.

“WADA has no doubt that these ongoing attacks are being carried out in retaliation against the Agency, and the global anti-doping system, because of our independent (Dick) Pound and (Richard) McLaren investigations that exposed state-sponsored doping in Russia,” Niggli said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded by saying: “If we’re talking about a request for help, then no question, if we receive such an appeal.

“Russia consistently backs fighting cybercrime, consistently invites all states and international organisations to cooperate in this area, and this position of Russia is well known.”

On Tuesday, WADA announced that the Russian cyber-espionage group Tsar Team (APT28), also known as Fancy Bears, had broken into its Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) database.

The hacking group released information gleaned from the files of sports stars including US Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, a four-time gold medallist in the Rio Games, and tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams.

In a fresh release on Thursday, the group published confidential data of 25 athletes, from eight countries, including British cyclists Bradley Wiggins and Froome, whose three Tour de France triumphs followed that of Wiggins.

“To those athletes that have been impacted, we regret that criminals have attempted to smear your reputations in this way,” said Niggli.

Russia’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko brushed aside suggestions of an orchestrated hacking campaign.

“How can you prove that they are hackers from Russia? You blame Russia for everything,” Mutko said.

 

 Sowing confusion 

As WADA urged Russian help, Niggli warned that the hacking could hamper the country’s efforts to reintegrate into the sports world.

“Continued cyber-attacks emanating from Russia seriously undermine the work that is being carried out to rebuild a compliant anti-doping program in Russia,” he said.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, however, said it was wrong to connect the issue of cybercrime with Russia’s attempts to overcome the massive doping scandal around its athletes.

“You can’t link up the battle with cybercrime with redressing the rights of athletes, these are questions that fall into different categories,” Zakharova said.

She accused WADA of sowing confusion, saying that “no one understands the principles behind the actions and functioning of this organisation”.

WADA needs to “develop clear criteria for its work that everyone understands, based on international law, and not on some very strange statements,” she said.

She reiterated that Russia denies any role in the hacks, saying: “For Russia just like for the rest of the world, hackers and hacking are outside the law.”

“We can influence this process using laws, but we have no other way to influence the hackers,” she stressed.

 

Froome defends record 

Froome, among those whose medical record was leaked, defended his right to a therapeutic use exemption (TUE).

“I’ve openly discussed my TUEs with the media and have no issues with the leak which confirms my statements,” the 31-year-old said.

“In nine years as a professional I’ve twice required a TUE for exacerbated asthma, the last time was in 2014.”

TUEs exist to allow athletes with recognised medical conditions such as asthma, from which Rio gold medallist Wiggins suffers, to take drugs on WADA’s banned list for their ailment so they can compete in elite level sport.

 

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