Senior Russian sports officials have admitted to “some unacceptable manipulations of the anti-doping system” and the existence of a “systemic doping scheme” in a letter to international sports leaders.

After the letter arrived, Craig Reedie, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), told a press conference: “My first look at it is that they are getting closer to acknowledging that there was an error.”

“I hope it is a game-changer,” Reedie said.

AFP has now seen a copy of the letter, which was written in Russian, addressed to Reedie and copied to International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach and Andrew Parson, the president of the International Paralympic Committee.

It was signed by Russian minister of sport Pavel Kolobkov, Russian Olympic Committee president Aleksandr Zhukov and Russian Paralympic Committee President Vladimir Lukin.

The letter describes the doping as “systemic” but does not use the word “institutional,” a key conclusion of the Wada inquiry led by Richard McLaren, who found that the Russia’s FSB security service was involved in manipulating urine samples at the Russian-hosted 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“The serious crisis that affected the Russian sports was caused by some unacceptable manipulations of the anti-doping system revealed in the investigations conducted under the auspices of Wada... and the IOC,” the letter said.

Appropriate actions

The acceptance of the conclusions of the McLaren report was one of the last two conditions for Wada to lift their suspension of Russia’s anti-doping agency, RUSADA.

The three signatories insist they had no knowledge of the doping but said: “We confirm that appropriate actions have been taken against the individuals involved in the operation of the systematic doping scheme including ensuring that such individuals no longer have any role in or influence over Russia’s anti-doping effort.”

The letter again queried the evidence to Wada of Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow anti-doping lab who is now in hiding in the United States, saying that a decision by the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) in February to lift bans on 28 Russians “caused reasonable doubt about the validity of the evidence”.

The inspection of the lab Rodchenkov ran is the last of Wada’s conditions for reinstating RUSADA. So far the Russians have not agreed, saying they must conclude their own investigation.

The letter arrived just before two days of meetings of Wada’s Executive Committee and Foundation Board in Montreal on May 16-17. It helped fuel lively debate between the IOC representatives, who favour accrediting RUSADA, and representatives of national governments, who do not.

“The discussions were strained because the sports movement is pushing for a lifting of the sanctions,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Wada committee responsible for the sanctions meets on June 14 to examine new elements in the case, including the Russian letter.

“Someone said to me it is only semantics but semantics matter in this game,” Reedie said of the letter.

“They matter in Moscow and they matter within this organisation and let’s hope I am right.”