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Athletics: Russia says its making anti-doping progress

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

World athletics championships hosts Russia on Monday rejected claims they are soft on doping, saying the exposure of a spate of high-profile cheats was due to a step forward in testing.

A number of Russian athletes, including 2004 Olympic hammer champion Olga Kuzenkova, have been banned in recent months for doping violations, prompting calls in some quarters for Moscow to be stripped of its right to host the championships later this year.

But Russian athletics federation chief Valentin Balakhnichev told AFP in an exclusive interview that Russia had dramatically changed its approach in the fight against doping.

"Three years ago the national anti-doping agency RUSADA was created to keep the use of drugs in sports under control," Balakhnichev said.

"It changed the situation radically as the Russian sports ministry upgraded the technical equipment of Moscow's anti-doping laboratory up to the highest modern standards and increased the level of its staff's skills."

"Now it is paying off, as the laboratory is not only testing but also regularly working out new methods of analysis that are currently used worldwide."

Russia is in the spotlight in the fight against doping as it prepares to host the world athletics championships in August in Moscow and then the Winter Olympics in February next year in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

British long jumper Jade Johnson, told the BBC in March that Moscow did not deserve to hold the championships because of its record of doping scandals.

UK Athletics head coach Peter Eriksson has also called for an investigation.

But Balakhnichev told the British to look after their own house.

"I think we all should withdraw from issuing any labels," he said.

"The British coaches and athletes should better watch closely what's going on closer to home."

Balakhnichev said the introduction of biological passports for athletes has exposed a set of serious problems in world sport in general and Russian athletics in particular.

He added that he considered the high financial motivation of success in modern athletics and a severe lack of educational work with athletes to be the main reasons for doping.

"In Soviet times, children's and youth sports schools were in charge of educational work with young athletes, together with the country's youth public organisations," he said.

"After the fall of the Soviet Union we lost the moral standards that prevented the athletes from cheating."

Balakhnichev admitted that RUSADA dealt with doping only at elite sports level, ignoring youth sports where banned substances were widespread.

"I believe we should keep the entire sports pyramid -- from children's sports up to the world class athletes -- in our country under complete control to win the battle against doping," he said.

The athletics chief added that easy accessibility of banned drugs in Russia via the Internet was also to blame for the increasing number of doping cases in the country.

"I think that Russia's federal drug enforcement agency should take control of not only narcotics but doping products as well," he said.

Balakhnichev also argued that Russia should adopt laws that would allow the criminal prosecution of doping cheats.

"I also believe that certain changes should be made in the country's criminal code. Those changes will allow the police to bring to book the doping code violators, just like any other criminals.

"I believe that these measures will help us to stop banned drugs use in sports."

Meanwhile, coaches should be disqualified as well if the athletes they supervise are caught cheating, he said.

"Normally we ban the dope-cheating athletes from sport, leaving their coaches unpunished," the athletics boss said.

"It's absolutely unacceptable especially in children's and youth sports, where the coaches are responsible for everything, including the health of the young athletes."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130408/athletics-russia-says-its-making-anti-doping-progress