Latvia to boycott Sochi’s IBSF Worlds amid fallout from McLaren report

Latvia has become the first nation to announce a boycott of Sochi’s 2017 Bob & Skeleton World Championships, as senior Russian officials continue to rail against the findings of the second part of the independent World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) report into doping in Russian sport.

Russian city Sochi, host of the 2014 winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, is due to stage next year’s edition of the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation (IBSF) showpiece event from February 13-26. Building up to Friday’s release of the second part of the report from Canadian sports lawyer Richard McLaren a number of athletes, including past Olympic medallists from the US and Great Britain, had said they would consider not competing at the Championships unless they are moved outside of Sochi.

However, Latvia’s skeleton team has become the first to make a definitive move. Latvia has won seven winter Olympic medals, all in sliding sports. The team is led by Martins Dukurs, the seven-time defending World Cup overall champion. At Sochi 2014, Dukurs entered as a favourite for gold but was beaten by Russia’s Aleksandr Tretyakov.

“Enough is enough,” the Latvian skeleton team said in a statement reported by the Associated Press news agency. “While our international federation is still going to 'read and digest the report,' we will do what we can. We will be glad to race in World Championships at any track of the world, but we are not participating in World Championships in Sochi, Russia – a place where Olympic spirit was stolen in 2014.”

In a statement on Friday, the IBSF said: “At today’s meeting the Executive Committee decided to act promptly and decisively following the publication of the final McLaren Report. Therefore, the IBSF will need to read and digest the report, the IP Evidence Disclosure Package (EDP) and gain IBSF-specific information from Wada. Highest priority and urgency is given by the Executive Committee to this matter.”

Friday’s report detailed that more than 1,000 Russian athletes competing in major sporting events dating back until at least 2011 were involved in an “institutionalised and disciplined” doping scheme, with the 2012 London Olympic Games corrupted on an “unprecedented scale.”

The report stated the cover-up was refined at London 2012, along with the Russian-staged 2013 World Athletics Championships and Sochi 2014. More than 30 sports, including football, were said to be involved in concealing positive doping samples.

The report said a urine sample-swapping technique used at Sochi 2014 became regular practice at Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory. Four Sochi gold medallists are said to have had samples with physiologically impossible salt readings, while 12 Russian Sochi medallists had evidence of their urine bottle samples having been tampered with.

The fallout from the McLaren report was met by stern words from Russian Deputy Prime Minister and former Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, and Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) president Alexander Zhukov, in interviews with state news agency Tass over the weekend.

“We now need to calmly move taking the issue to a court and this is what we will do,” Mutko said. “It will be up to the International Olympic Committee to do the verifying job. The commission has accused Russia of doing what is principally impossible to do. In Sochi, it was simply impossible to do what we are being accused of. And our athletes were never part of the alleged disappearing result scheme. Eighty per cent of them were in the permanent doping testing pool.

“The second part of the report is over to reveal more evidence to what was said in the first part, concerning the alleged state policy and a plot against global sports. Notably, accusations are voiced solely against Russia.”

Zhukov said Russia is open to co-operation with the IOC and Wada, but added: “We have amended our laws and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada) is now absolutely independent. From the point of view of financing the organisation, it has even increased. We have made a special provision in the budget. Everything has been done to enhance anti-doping efforts. No system of state support for doping in Russia has ever existed or exists. Considering any concrete facts, they should be studied more thoroughly.”