MOSCOW - Russia must conduct its own investigation into allegations that its athletes regularly took performance-enhancing substances, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.
Putin's comments were his first on the issue since the World Anti-Doping Agency's six-month suspension of Moscow's drug-testing laboratory following a scathing report Monday alleging state-sponsored doping in Russian athletics.
The report accuses the laboratory of manipulating athletes' drug tests so they appear clean. It also implicates Russian athletes, coaches and doctors in the scheme.
“I ask the minister of sport and all our colleagues who are linked in one way or another with sport to pay this issue the greatest possible attention," Putin said from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where he will meet with sports officials.
Russia will conduct its own investigation and cooperate with international anti-doping agencies, Putin vowed. “A sporting contest is only interesting when it is honest,” said the president, himself a famous sportsman.
If problems are found, Putin warned, someone must assume responsibility.
"They [Putin and coaches] need to have a constructive dialogue to find a way to end this scandal,” said public relations professional Maxim Filipovich. “So long as it [the scandal] exists, and remains unresolved, it's very detrimental to the images of our national teams."
Olympic participation at risk
Russia faces possible suspension from athletic competition over doping and could be banned from next summer's Olympic Games in Brazil.
That threat raised concerns among people in Russia.
Yevgeny Denisov, an engineer, found fault with a possible blanket expulsion of the team. "Maybe some individuals should be excluded, but not the whole federation," he said. "Russia must defend its point of view in the world sport arena."
London consultant Nigel Currie said the entire Games would suffer if Russia was banned. "Financially for the Olympics and, more importantly, the prestige and status of the Olympics will definitely face some tough challenges because of this," he said.
Threats to sponsorships
Among those possible challenges for the Olympic Games and Russia itself are threats to valuable sponsorships.
Andrey Movchan, Economic Policy Program Director at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the sponsorship problem could extend beyond the Olympics to other sporting events.
"Accordingly, international investors, if there are any left, could rethink their positions," he said. "Even the amount of sponsorship for the 2018 World Cup could be revised in connection with changed national image and status."