Less than a week before the International Olympic Committee leadership decides how to sanction Russia for a massive, years-long doping conspiracy, whistleblower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov has told ESPN via emailed comments that "serious" discipline should be imposed, while leaving the door open for some athletes to participate in the upcoming PyeongChang 2018 Games.
"Innocent" athletes should "be able to compete at least under a neutral flag," Rodchenkov said in comments forwarded by his New York-based lawyer, Jim Walden. But, Rodchenkov added, Russia needs to take "a serious first step toward reform and redemption."
"I wish Tuesday began with a confession and apology from Russia, which would give the world confidence they might embrace truth and reform," Rodchenkov said, referring to the day the IOC executive board has said it will announce a decision on the country's eligibility for PyeongChang at a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland. "This is not the Russian way. If they are not disciplined seriously, they will be laughing at the IOC behind closed doors and plotting their next caper."
Rodchenkov is currently under the protection of federal authorities. Walden agreed to send several short, concise questions from ESPN to Rodchenkov by email, and relayed the answers back, also by email.
The former director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory was the chief architect of a scheme to help Russian athletes use performance-enhancing drugs and evade positive tests in the lead-up to and competition at the Sochi 2014 Games. He fled Russia in late 2015 after being fired amid intense scrutiny of corruption revealed by whistleblowers, media reports and a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation, and after the sudden death of a friend and colleague who formerly headed the Russian Anti-Doping Agency.
In interviews with the New York Times and investigators including Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, who was commissioned by WADA to do an independent report, Rodchenkov directly implicated officials from the Ministry of Sport and RUSADA in the conspiracy, which he has said was facilitated by the FSB, Russia's security agency.
Rodchenkov's credibility as a witness was recently reinforced by a written decision issued by the IOC's Oswald Commission stripping Russian cross-Country skier Alexander Legkov of his Sochi medals and banning him from future Olympic competition.
"Whichever wrongdoing he may have committed in the past, Dr. Rodchenkov was telling the truth when he provided explanations of the cover-up scheme that he managed," the commission concluded.
Rodchenkov told ESPN he wants Russia to, "Admit the truth of McLaren's report and give WADA access to stored samples and the lab's back-up data. This is what the [WADA] Roadmap requires."
WADA recently decided to continue RUSADA's non-compliant status, triggering a continued suspension of the Russian track and field federation. The International Paralympic Committee has said it will bar the Russian team from the Winter Paralympic Games.
The scandal exposed grave weaknesses in the will and ability of the IOC and WADA to deal with government-enabled organized doping. In the email exchange, ESPN asked Rodchenkov, "What was the world's biggest single missed opportunity for exposing the 'Sochi Plan' before it happened?"
He replied: "Russia was absolutely confident it wouldn't be caught. The plan was unimaginable - opening bottles, swapping urine, using cocktail for doping. It looked like a fantasy. It was brazen and the only way to have stopped it was if our lab had lost it(s) accreditation earlier. This is why WADA should have open access to LIMS [laboratory information management systems]."
An electronic database from the Moscow lab, which has results from 2012-15, was not made available to WADA by Russian officials, but was instead conveyed by an unspecified whistleblower a matter of weeks ago.
Rhetoric against Rodchenkov from Russia has escalated in recent days, and a court there issued an arrest warrant for him in September.