JUDY WOODRUFF: Now allegations that Russian athletes have been gaming international sports for years.
A report out today from an independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency found — quote — “a deeply rooted culture of cheating in Russia’s track and field programs, including systemic doping, bribery and destruction of evidence, much of it done at the Russian government’s behest.”
The commission’s report recommended lifetime bans for five Russian runners, including the gold and bronze medal winners at the 2012 London Olympics.
Commission head Richard Pound said the doping had to be state-sponsored.
RICHARD POUND, Chairman, World Anti-Doping Agency Commission: Our conclusion was that all of this could not have happened or continued to happen without the knowledge of and either actual or implied consent of the state authorities. They were not operating the sport, but, as I say, they would certainly have known, and could not not have known about this.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s take a deeper look into the investigation and its impact with a sports reporter who has long covered the Olympics.
Christine Brennan of USA Today is also a commentator for ABC News, and she joins me now.
Welcome back to the program, Christine.
So, this is an extraordinary report, isn’t it?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA Today: Well, it is.
It’s groundbreaking and it’s earth-shattering in many ways, although, for those who have been watching what’s happened with FIFA, the soccer governing body, and all the concerns there — and people may go back and remember the East Germans and the cheating in swimming and track and field all the way back to the ’60s and into ’70s, that in some ways this may not shock people at all.
But here we are talking about one of the great forces in Olympic sports, Russia, of course, just hosted the last Olympic Games, the Winter Olympics, which Vladimir Putin paid $51 billion to put on.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: And now to have this story hit, in many ways no surprise, and yet obviously eye-opening and very alarming.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And when you start to read this report, Christine, you see, it’s not only the athletes, it’s the coaches, it’s the doctors, it’s the people who regulate the sport, and, as we said, going all the way up to the government.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Exactly. The government is implicated.
And, you know, I don’t know that we will ever get to the bottom of exactly how high up this goes in Russia, but I think we can dream big. And when you think of how important the Sochi Olympics were to Putin and to Russia and the kind of money that they spent in that country at this time with so many issues, you just have to wonder if it goes all the way to the top.
And, as I said, we will never know. And, journalistically, we have no idea right now. But what the World Anti-Doping Agency is alleging here is extraordinary. And if it starts to work people up and sponsors up to what’s really going on in some of these countries, then I think it turns out to be a good thing.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it possible to put on a finger on how many — who won and who didn’t win, who medaled and who didn’t as a result of this cheating?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Oh, in some ways. You alluded to the fact that the gold and the bronze medal in the women’s 800 meters would be taken away.
I think fans over the years have come to realize, for example, with Lance Armstrong, when they stripped away his titles, seven Tour de France titles, that there was only one person in the three times seven, 21 of the top three in each seven years, who would have been clean.
And so going back to the Olympic record books in the ’70s, where we know the East Germans and the Soviets were cheating, and then you still look at their records and you still look at their names as medalists, so, in some way, that’s almost a futile effort because it’s so much bigger than that.
But it certainly is sad for those athletes who haven’t cheated to be denied those medals.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we should point out the Russian government, Russian officials are saying that this is politically motivated. They are denying it.
Among other things, they’re saying that how can you accuse them of doing this when the international agency was in charge of doing the testing? They’re saying, if we were doing this, then why didn’t somebody see it at the time?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Well, and it’s a good point, except for this, that the Russian officials run those labs.
So the lab was in Sochi. And, of course, this does bring into question what was going on at the Sochi Olympics. Right now, we’re talking track and field athletes. And, obviously, that is a huge sport for the Summer Games, and whether these athletes and whether Russia should even be allowed to have track and field athletes in Rio next summer.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: But you go back to Sochi, which of course was this hub of international sports based on the Winter Olympics, and those officials there are running that lab.
Also keep in mind that Russian security officials were involved, and there are the implications and allegations that they were actually strong-arming some of these people to make these decisions or to in some cases destroy up to 1,400 drug tests.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Christine, just quickly, another argument that is heard today is that, well, this is going on in a lot of places, it’s not just the Russians. How much validity is there?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Oh, I think it’s true. And I think, when we look at baseball, look at all of our sports in the United States, to think that the bad chemists, Judy, are still way ahead of the good chemists.
So, drug testing is important, but they can’t catch all the designer drugs that are being made that they haven’t yet found a test for. So I think the important thing for fans and people who love sports, buyer, beware. As a consumer, you know that that product could be tainted, whether it’s Major League Baseball, the NFL, any sport in the United States potentially, but also at the Olympic level.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, just quickly, effect on the Olympics going forward?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Yes. I think it has a big effect, because when you look at the tainted nature of this and the fact that if people can’t trust what they’re watching, if you can’t trust a foot race between eight men or eight women, what in the world can you trust and how does that impact sponsors moving forward?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Christine Brennan, it’s quite a story.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Thank you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Take care.