(CNN) – The head of the World-Anti-Doping Agency has warned Russia that the hacking of athletes medical records could postpone the nation’s attempt to return to the world stage.
WADA president Craig Reedie told CNN Thursday that the hacking of confidential files by the cyber criminal group “Fancy Bear” was clearly a retaliatory attack after 118 of Russia’s athletes were banned from competing at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games following revelations of “state-sponsored” doping.
WADA recommended banning all Russian athletes from the Olympics, after an independent report said the country operated a state-sponsored doping program during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Russian officials and athletes likened the move to Cold War era conflicts.
And while Reedie remains adamant there has been no involvement from the Russian government, he says the hack could have serious consequences for the country’s bid to re-enter the world of athletics.
“I would be very surprised if the Russian government was directly involved,” said Reedie.
“However, the information that we have, which I’m pretty certain is authoritative, is that the people who are doing this have connections to Russia.
“I would hope that the appeals I have made to my colleagues and officials in Russia will bring about some desired results because this continued breach of confidentiality on athletes’ personal records is entirely unwelcome.
“It is dangerous, it breaches every bit of medical code that I would ever know, and is unhelpful if Russia is making efforts to have its anti-doping system declared compliant.”
Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko denied accusations of governmental interference when he spoke to reporters in Athens, Wednesday.
“How can one possibly prove that the hackers were from Russia?” Mutko said, according to state-run Tass news agency.
“Nowadays, Russia is blamed for everything and it seems to be in the trend.
“I want to say that we have no such information and we are also deeply concerned since the hacked documents could have also contained information on Russian athletes and it could be made public as well.”
The hack, which revealed therapeutic exemption use (TUE) details of stars such as American four-time Olympic gold medallist Simone Biles as well as tennis sisters Venus and Serena Williams, has led to criticism of WADA’s security systems.
A TUE allows an athlete to use, for therapeutic purposes only, an otherwise prohibited substance or method.
They’re often used because athletes may have illnesses or conditions which means they need to take certain medications.
If the medication which is needed is listed as a prohibited substance, a TUE could be given to allow the athlete to use the medication without breaking any doping laws.
Exemptions, which are only granted if WADA determines no unfair advantage is given to the athlete, can be applied for through the athletes’ national anti-doping agency or international federation.
The entire process is supposed to be kept confidential to maintain the athlete’s right to privacy.
Reedie, who revealed that the organization has a budget of $30 million to spend on its security, says WADA will meet in Switzerland on Tuesday to discuss what should be done to safeguard its system in the future.
“We have been in business now and moved mountains — people should understand that — over the past 17 years,” he said.
“What we need to do is make sure our own processes are up to date and are efficient for the world in 2016 instead of 1999 and we will do that.
“Next week we’re looking at whether the code can be changed to cover institutionalized corruption. We are looking at whether we should have more powers when we declare people non-compliant.
“We’re looking at our own governance. We’re taking this seriously, It’s easy to criticize, it’s easy to look back, we now have to look forward and that’s precisely what we’re doing.”