GENEVA – The World Anti-Doping Agency will study allegations by British daily The Times of widespread doping in Russian swimming before deciding if it needs to open a similar inquiry to one which shattered the reputation of Russian athletics.
The newspaper alleged in Wednesday's edition that doping and cover-ups took place over several years in Russian swimming.
Some of the claims were linked to sports doctor Sergei Portugalov, who WADA wants banned for life after his role in a doping conspiracy in athletics was detailed in November. That WADA-commissioned inquiry led to Russia's track and field team being banned from international events nine months before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
"There is no doubt that today's disturbing assertions of orchestrated doping in Russian swimming should be scrutinized," WADA President Craig Reedie said in a statement.
Last week, Reedie committed WADA to re-evaluate the athletics inquiry report four months later to decide if references to doping in other Russian sports justified the time and cost of setting up new investigations.
That process will include trying to corroborate The Times reports, said the anti-doping watchdog, which has written to swimming's world governing body, FINA.
"In particular, we are concerned by the allegations that Mr. Sergei Portugalov ... may be working in swimming," WADA said.
FINA said Wednesday it had no "concrete evidence" of systemic doping in Russia and called on The Times to share its evidence. It pledged to investigate any allegations "substantiated by evidence and which have not already been addressed."
One claim cited two Russian swimmers whose positive tests for EPO, a banned blood-boosting hormone, in 2009 were covered up. Russia's now-discredited anti-doping agency, RUSADA, was "unable or unwilling" to pursue the case because the doctor named as supplying the drug had police connections, the report said.
The Times reported swim coaches saying they were aware of open distribution of medications at training centers and competitions in Russia.
The investigation quoted unidentified witnesses who suggested their fear of being named as whistleblowers.
"If I talk to you, I'll be under the next train at Moscow's main station, like the rest of them who knew too much," the newspaper reported quoting one swimming official.
The willingness of Russian swimmers or coaches to give evidence — and risk being identified — is likely to be key to any inquiry being set up or having any chance of succeeding.
The athletics inquiry, led by former WADA leader Dick Pound, was launched only after German broadcaster ARD gained the trust of Russian whistleblowers to speak publicly and to film secretly.
"There was very little that came from the (Pound) investigation from cooperation we got from, for example, athletes in Russia," WADA's incoming director general Olivier Niggli told the Associated Press last week "So you have to ask yourself the question, is going into Russia interviewing more athletes from other sports going to bring us anywhere?"
"Is there really sufficient evidence? We will do it if we think that it's going to be worth the effort," Niggli said.
In the athletics case, the WADA panel also investigated athletics' governing body, the IAAF, and helped discredit senior officials including its Russian treasurer, Valentin Balakhnichev, and its former president, Lamine Diack of Senegal, who is now under criminal investigation in France.
On Wednesday, FINA defended its management of the sport and pointed to its own response to the Pound inquiry.
FINA had "absolutely zero tolerance for the use of performance-enhancing substances in swimming," said the governing body based in Lausanne, Switzerland.
"However, it should be noted that while FINA is not aware of any concrete evidence of systemic doping in Russian swimming, we have taken a particularly robust approach to our anti-doping procedures in relation to Russia and Russian competitions, in light of WADA's recent investigation," it said.
Since the athletics inquiry report was published in November — and the allegedly corrupt Moscow laboratory had its WADA accreditation revoked — FINA has removed samples taken from swimmers at Kazan to be stored in Barcelona, Spain.
FINA has previously been criticized for its close ties to Russia, after giving President Vladimir Putin its highest award - months before Kazan hosted the 2015 world championships.
In Kazan, Russia's only gold medal was won by Yulia Efimova, who had recently completed a 16-month ban for doping with a steroid. Efimova this month tested positive for meldonium and faces a life ban for a second offense.