Russia probes systematic doping

MOSCOW -- The Russian Anti-Doping Agency has launched an investigation into claims of corruption and systematic doping in the country and within its own ranks.

Also Friday, the national athletics federation head hit back at the German broadcaster who made the claims, calling its report a "a crudely planned attempt to blacken Russian athletics and Russian sport as a whole."

German television channel ARD broadcast a documentary in which former RUSADA official Vitaly Stepanov accused the agency of routinely covering up positive doping tests by leading Russian athletes in a variety of sports. He also said the head of the national anti-doping laboratory had sold banned substances and falsified tests.

"RUSADA is starting its own investigation in relation to those involved in the film and the information presented by them," the anti-doping agency said Friday in a statement.

The aim of the investigation is to "check the facts presented," the agency said, without giving any further details.

Russian athletics federation head Valentin Balakhnichev issued a strongly worded statement on the body's website, saying it was contemplating taking legal action against "people guilty of disseminating defamatory information."

He said the doping accusations are "a provocation aimed at undermining Russian sport."

The film including testimony from Russian athletes alleging that doping was widespread in track and field, with former runner Yulia Stepanova, the wife of Stepanov, saying that coaches had provided her with banned substances. Since Stepanova and some other athletes have previously been banned for doping, they may hold "a grudge" and "it's hardly possible to relate to them with trust," Balakhnichev said.

ARD also appeared to show reigning Olympic 800-meter champion Maria Savinova admitting to using the banned steroid oxandrolone, and ARD and French sports daily L'Equipe reported that three-time Chicago Marathon winner Liliya Shobukhova paid 450,000 euros ($600,000) to avoid a doping ban. Shobukhova was eventually banned for doping and she said some of the money was refunded.

RUSADA and the national laboratory are funded and overseen by the Russian government.

Russia has seen a string of doping scandals in recent years, including the banning of Olympic race-walking champion Yulia Lashmanova for two years in June.

The director of the center where Lashmanova trained was banned by RUSADA for four years last month following an investigation into repeated doping violations by athletes there. At least 17 athletes from the center have been found guilty of doping offenses.