Russia's anti-doping chief is predicting a lengthy Olympic ban for the national squad, lashing out at Moscow authorities who he says handed over falsified lab data to international investigators.
The accusations are the latest scandal to hit Russian sport after the country was banned from competing in several international competitions over state-sponsored doping.
"Russia's Olympic squad will be prevented from participating fully in the Olympic Games in Tokyo.... I think that this will also happen at the (Winter Olympic) Games in China," the head of Russia's RUSADA agency, Yuri Ganus, told AFP in an exclusive interview.
The best-case scenario in his view is very limited participation "by certain athletes, by invitation", as happened at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
He expects other penalties too, including restrictions on holding international tournaments in Russia, exclusion of Russians from international sports federations and fines.
In September, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) demanded Russia explain "inconsistencies" in electronic data it handed over which listed results of tests carried out under the laboratory's previous leadership.
The data handover was supposed to demonstrate Russia's desire for transparency after the scandalous revelations that RUSADA facilitated state-sponsored doping between 2011 and 2015.
Russian sports minister Pavel Kolobkov sent a letter of explanation to WADA about the data it queried on October 8.
But Ganus -- who says he has not had access to that letter -- suggests the scale of the data manipulation is such that these explanations are likely to be insufficient.
On October 23, WADA's Compliance Review Committee, which has powers to recommend sanctions, is set to meet experts who have analysed the data and looked at Russia's explanations.
The walls of Ganus's office in central Moscow are covered with posters promoting clean sport and messages of support from counterparts around the world.
He insists his organisation had nothing to do with the data manipulation because it did not have access to the database in question.
He believes that high-ranking officials must have carried out the fraud since the laboratory data was "under the control of Russia's Investigative Committee."
The powerful agency is leading criminal investigations into laboratory employees who were allegedly involved in state-sponsored doping.
But Ganus wonders what those investigations could hope to achieve now the credibility of authorities has been so undermined in his eyes.
He hints that officials may have intervened to protect top athletes from the revelation of their use of doping.
"Whose names were in there? What was there in the data? This data was information about athletes' test samples.
"Who were the people who were able to infiltrate the Investigative Committee, what state powers did they have? This is extremely serious," Ganus says.
The falsifications took place "on the eve of the transfer (of the data) to WADA".
Ganus, whose appointment as head of RUSADA in 2017 was supposed to drag Russia out of a morass, now sees the country at a crossroads.
"This is a blow to the current generation of athletes and to future generations as well," he says.
"It's a tragedy."
In recent months Ganus has issued harsh criticisms of Russia's sporting authorities, accusing Russian media of attempting to discredit him and inventing a Western conspiracy against Moscow.
"All my statements are aimed at us making the right decisions," he says.
"Russia cannot continue any more with its old methods which have made the doping crisis worse."
"We need to get rid of the idea that the West is trying to put pressure on us," he says.
"Russia needs to put its own house in order."
The country needs "new heads of the sporting organisations," he says, stressing that this "should include" a new sports minister.
In the fight to clean up sport, he is "counting on the support of the president" Vladimir Putin.
Moscow, Russia | AFP