‘Clean athletes shouldn’t bear responsibility for those breaching rules’ – Russian sports minister

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov has spoken exclusively to RT to share his thoughts on the recent speculation about a possible ban on the Russian national anthem at the upcoming Winter Olympics, as well as the country’s continuing anti-doping efforts.

RT: Russia’s Investigative Committee has published updated information regarding the alleged government-led doping scheme in Russia. The document says that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has drawn some incorrect conclusions. Do you think that the Investigative Committee’s arguments will be taken into consideration by WADA?

Pavel Kolobkov: Russia’s Investigative Committee has been investigating the case for a year and a half. Of course, it’s very important for us to find the truth regarding the Rodchenkov case, regarding the anti-doping work in Russia. The announcements made by Russia’s investigative body are very important. I think that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and WADA should take into consideration the conclusions reached by Russia’s investigative body. I very much hope there will be cooperation between these entities that are aimed to determine the truth.

READ MORE: ‘We intend to demand extradition of Rodchenkov from US’ – Russian Investigative Committee

RT: Following the scandal, Russia took numerous steps towards improving its anti-doping system. WADA praised some of those measures. And in September, it cleared 95 of 96 athletes. What else can Russia do to rehabilitate its international sporting reputation?

PK: All this time we were ready to provide all the necessary information. It is very important that those 95 athletes were cleared. We fully support the idea of individual investigations regarding each athlete. Talking about restoring Russia’s reputation, it is a complicated question. I’m in Lausanne now and I do realize that it will take a long time to cooperate with international organizations. But, in my opinion, each side should hear the other’s arguments. Our mutual goal is to re-establish credibility for sport in general.

RT: A recent New York Times publication stated the IOC is considering banning the Russian national anthem as well as Russian delegation at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, as possible sanctions. There have already been some calls in Russia for a possible boycott of the Olympics. What is your position on that?

PK: All that information was obtained from the media. Such kind of speculation has no grounds so far. A decision of that kind has not been made. Speaking about performance under a neutral flag or without the anthem, I think this scenario is impossible to imagine. Of course we would be against that, and we have repeatedly voiced that position at various major meetings. But once again, there is no such decision, so it is premature to discuss any sort of sanctions.

RT: The IOC has already called the NYT’s claims premature. Do you expect further speculation of that kind to appear in the near future?

PK: Over the last two years we have been discussing questions that are not directly related to sport. The international press has been publishing various articles that are based on speculation. Let’s talk facts. Let’s discuss it with people that are responsible for developing sport, whether it is Russian, or international bodies. I wouldn’t be surprised if such speculation appeared again.

RT: If the IOC does decide on sanctions against Russia at the Winter Games, such as not allowing the Russian national anthem to be played or barring delegates and athletes from the opening ceremony, would you consider that as unacceptable, a humiliation for Russia, and would you then consider a boycott of the Games?

PK: I don’t like the world ‘boycott,’ there were boycotts in the 1980s and they had a very adverse effect on sport. This is an impossible scenario now. Our team is calmly preparing for the Games, we are staying in constant contact with the IOC; we disagree on many points, but I still hope that the final decision will be in the name of sport. I’ve said many times that athletes that violate doping rules should be punished, but clean athletes shouldn’t have to bear responsibility for those breaching the rules. Our goal is to make sure that clean athletes get the right to compete. I think international sports organizations have the same goal. While making such decisions we must think about every individual athlete involved.

RT: The IOC has already stripped Russia of medals from the Sochi Games, and other athletes remain under investigation and could face losing their medals and a ban from competition. A decision over whether Russia will be banned from the Games still hasn’t been confirmed. Given that there is less than 100 days to go before the Winter Games, how frustrating is this for athletes still waiting to find out if they can represent their country once more?

PK: Yes, the process is ongoing. But the majority of athletes (involved in doping investigations) have already retired from sport.

RT: Should these investigations have been completed earlier or have they been deliberately delayed for political reasons?

PK: Of course, we would appreciate it if the decisions had been made earlier to give the athletes and their representatives more time to prepare for the hearings. But, unfortunately, the timeline has been limited. I hope that all the arguments will be heard and taken into consideration, including the Investigative Committee’s stance.

RT: You have previously talked about individual responsibility and that collective responsibility is wrong. But isn't that essentially what we are seeing in the way Russian athletes are being treated – collectively rather than individually – by organizations like the Paralymics and various media?

PK: I have said it on many occasions, that the athletes that break the anti-doping rules should serve their punishment. But clean athletes should not bear responsibility for those breaching the rules. A principle in according to which the entire team is punished for the wrongdoings of some of the athletes cannot be right. I’m convinced that decisions of that kind should not be made (in the future).

RT: How concerned are you about the escalating tensions between North and South Korea, and the safety of the athletes who will participate at the Winter Games?

PK: Yes, we are indeed closely monitoring the development of the situation. But I’m sure that common sense will prevail. The Olympic Games are supposed to bring nations together and promote (friendship). In ancient Greece all conflicts were halted during the Olympics. We are monitoring the situation but don’t put much emphasis on it and calmly continue our preparation for the Olympics.

RT: How confident are you that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSDA) suspension will be lifted in the near future?

PK: RUSADA has done significant work in the past year. Russia’s Olympic Committee and Russia’s Sports Ministry have fully supported them in it. A set of measures was adopted at the government level. At this moment RUSADA is functioning independently. A new general director was elected, its budget was increased. It can conduct all sort of activities in the anti-doping sphere. I would like to address my WADA colleagues, I think that RUSADA should be restored its rights in the near future in order to improve the global anti-doping policy.