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Russian Officials No Longer Dispute Doping Program, Report Says

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Russian officials finally are saying, yes, there was widespread doping that involved many of the country's Olympic athletes. The New York Times reported last night that Russian sports officials, after denying this scheme for years, admitted what they described as an institutional conspiracy. This follows the release earlier this month of a final report done for the World Anti-Doping Agency, which details widespread state-sponsored doping in Russia from 2011 to 2015. And for more on this, we're joined by journalist Hajo Seppelt. His series of explosive documentaries for German broadcaster ARD were instrumental in revealing the extent of Russian doping, and he's on the line. Good morning.

HAJO SEPPELT: Good morning.

GREENE: So are you surprised by what you read in The New York Times?

SEPPELT: I was surprised that they did it, that they admitted it. I'm not surprised about the content because it was clear enough. The evidence was overwhelming that Russia has created, has performed state-supported doping for years. This was not a surprise for me.

GREENE: So you basically are seeing an admission of much of what you knew has been true for some time now as you've been digging into this.

SEPPELT: Yes, I would say it this way - interesting that RUSADA, at the beginning, said, OK, we have to admit now today to be - to be read in The New York Times that it was an institutional conspiracy. That is really interesting because it confirms exactly what the chief investigator of the World Anti-Doping Agency, McLaren, has said a few days ago in his London press conference. So now we can say, at least according to that information - The New York Times - that there's no doubt anymore about a state-sponsored doping system in Russia.

GREENE: But there are - there do seem to be some reasons for doubt potentially. Just a couple of things to note - I mean, the reports in the Russian media this morning suggesting that these officials may have spoken out of turn. At least that's what the Russian state-sponsored media is suggesting. And even the officials who spoke to The New York Times said this doping was not state-sponsored. Is that an important distinction?

SEPPELT: It's really - really interesting and, to be honest, confirms also the usual way that the whole Russian state media work that they now again try to deny the facts and say that it's out of context - what has been published in the New York Times. But to be honest, I wouldn't trust that. On the other hand, we have to say, if they talk about that the state was not involved, then you have to define what - what does it mean - state - and if maybe Mr. Putin himself...

GREENE: Vladimir Putin.

SEPPELT: ...And maybe some of those allies of him are not involved. It doesn't mean automatically that the Russian government was not involved. And Antseliovich in that interview confirmed clearly - the general director of the Russian anti-doping agency - that the sports ministry was involved and helped to cover up doping. So from my point of view, that shows clearly that we can talk about state-supported doping.

GREENE: OK, so I mean, obviously this is something that the Russian - even these officials saying it's not state-sponsored. But if they continue to say that this happened - it was a conspiracy, but it didn't go to the highest levels of government - will that satisfy investigators? Will it satisfy the Olympic Committee? Does this mean that the Russian Olympic program goes forward now with this off its back?

SEPPELT: My feeling is that the IOC - the International Olympic Committee - has seen now the overwhelming evidence based on the facts in the McLaren report and that they also understood now it makes no sense anymore that the Russians still continue to deny. So maybe the IOC or other international sports bodies told them, now you have to come forward with information. You have to regain your - your trust in the whole Olympic and global sports world. And if you can continue to deny it, it makes no sense.

GREENE: All right, well...

SEPPELT: From my point of view...

GREENE: ...We'll have to leave it there. We're out of time, sadly. That's investigative journalist Hajo Seppelt. Thanks so much for talking to us.

SEPPELT: OK, thank you. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.