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Athletics: Russia says making progress in anti-doping

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

World athletics championships host Russia on Monday rejected claims that it was soft on doping, saying the exposure of a spate of high-profile cheats was due to a stepping up of 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 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 said the introduction of biological passports for athletes has exposed a set of serious problems in world's sports in general and Russian athletics in particular.

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

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

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 childrens' 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 under control not only narcotics but doping products as well," he said.

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