09The Russian hacking group responsible for leaking the medical records of scores of Olympic athletes may have altered the documents it made public, it has been suggested.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has accused the Fancy Bears team, which is thought to enjoy sponsorship from the Russian government, of doctoring the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) records it stole from the organisation’s database.
The documents released by the Fancy Bears team have caused major embarrassment for a number of top Olympic athletes, including US tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, British cyclist Bradley Wiggins and American golfer Patrick Reed.
The TUE records detail banned substances athletes were given a therapeutic exemption to take on medical grounds. While there is no suggestion that any of the sportspeople named in the documents broke any rules, the information has cast a shadow over some of their achievements.
In a statement released earlier this week, WADA said some of the data released by Fancy Bears did not accurately reflect information held on it Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS), which was accessed by the hacking group in a “spear phishing” attack. The organisation encouraged athletes who found any inaccurate information in the released material to get in contact.
Separately, US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief Travis Tygart has spoken out against the Fancy Bears, calling them “con artists”. Tygart intervened after the hackers released a string of email exchanges they said revealed the “USADA covers up many athletes using prohibited substances”. Tygart told the BBC the group’s latest claims were “just another desperate attempt to distract from the real issue of [Russian] state-sponsored doping”.
The Fancy Bears claim their aim is “exposing the athletes who violate the principles of fair play by taking doping substances”, but many analysts believe their main aim – as Tygart suggested – is to draw the sporting world’s attention away from the Russian doping scandal, and get revenge on WADA.
Back in July, WADA released a report that claimed Russia ran a state-sponsored doping programme between 2011 and 2015. The findings led to a number Russian athletes being excluded from the Rio Games, and the country’s whole team being banned from this year’s Paralympics. Although officials in Moscow have raised doubts over whether the Fancy Bears hackers are even operating from inside Russia, let alone acting as an agent of the Kremlin, the fact that the organisation’s name is so similar to that of the “Fancy Bear” group suspected of hacking the Democratic National Committee’s email servers over the summer has led many observers in little doubt as to the motives behind its actions.