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Olympics

After doping scandal, Russia hacked the Olympics, US and Britain say

Travis Tygart, who heads the US Anti-Doping Agency, said Russia’s behavior “hasn’t changed one bit,” and the absence of meaningful punishment, in his view, has only emboldened Russia.
Travis Tygart, who heads the US Anti-Doping Agency, said Russia’s behavior “hasn’t changed one bit,” and the absence of meaningful punishment, in his view, has only emboldened Russia.Susan Walsh/Associated Press

LONDON — After the unmasking of its state-orchestrated doping program turned it into a sporting pariah, Russia hardly quietly accepted its punishment.

Angered and humiliated, it has fought, so far unsuccessfully, to reenter the international sports community through legal channels. But, United States prosecutors and British government officials say, it went much further than that, actively seeking to undermine the Olympics it was barred from.

Just as it used the full might of the state in a cheating scheme that brought it now-disputed medals at events like the 2014 Sochi Games, Russia unleashed some of the same forces to hack and disrupt the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea and the now-delayed 2020 Tokyo Summer Games, according to US and British officials.

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Now, once again, the International Olympic Committee is left to decide what, if any, action to take against one of the largest and most influential countries in its movement, one that has time and again challenged its ideals.

According to US and British authorities, operatives from Russia’s military intelligence wing unleashed a barrage of cyberattacks on the 2018 Winter Olympics and started operations against the Tokyo Games as part of a broader worldwide hacking campaign that also included attacks on a French presidential election and Ukraine’s electricity grid.

Russia denied the allegations, as it did when details of its doping program first emerged and after attacks on other sporting bodies, including the global doping regulator.

A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on Tuesday described the accusations as “Russophobia.”

“Russia has never carried out any hacking activities against the Olympics,” he told reporters in Moscow.

The accusations come as Russia tries to overturn the four-year ban from major international sporting events it received in December when experts at the world’s anti-doping regulator found that Russian officials manipulated key data that would have allowed sports federations to finally identify the hundreds of athletes it helped to cheat.

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For the IOC and its president, Thomas Bach, the latest details of Russian malfeasance are likely to be a bitter blow. For years, the Olympic movement has stopped well short of punishing Russia with the most severe penalties, which would include barring any Russian athletes from appearing at the Olympics or participating in regional events.

On Monday, the IOC was cautious in its first comments about the affair. Its statement did not mention Russia by name or specifically respond to the allegations.

“The IOC and the Organizing Committees of the Olympic Games have identified cybersecurity as a priority area and invest a lot to offer the Olympic Games the best cybersecurity environment possible,” the statement said. “Given the nature of the topic, we do not divulge those measures.”

In South Korea, the IOC angered much of the global anti-doping movement by allowing Russian athletes to participate even though its national Olympic committee, flag and national anthem were banned. A total of 168 Russian athletes competed under the designation “Olympic Athlete From Russia.”

Russia faced another ban in Tokyo, this time more severe than the one it received before the PyeongChang Games. Russian athletes will have to prove they are clean from banned substances and do not have links to any of the manipulated data from a discredited Moscow laboratory. And in Tokyo they will not be able to be a part of a team in the way they were in South Korea.

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Travis Tygart, who heads the US Anti-Doping Agency, another group that Russia tried to hack, said he was not surprised in the slightest by the latest developments.

He said Russia’s behavior “hasn’t changed one bit,” and the absence of meaningful punishment, in his view, has only emboldened Russia.

“The powers that be don’t have the courage to stand up to Russia even when they damage and maybe permanently damage the Olympic brand and the Olympic values,” Tygart said. “If a toddler keeps getting what it asks for and keeps disobeying the rules, why would they act differently?”