The World Anti-Doping Agency will “urgently” investigate allegations of widespread doping in athletics, the body announced on Friday.

The move comes after reports in Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper and German broadcaster ARD suggested hundreds of athletes had returned “suspicious” doping test results.

The two media obtained a leaked database belonging to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) which contained more than 12,000 blood tests from 5,000 athletes between 2001 and 2012.

Russia and Kenya were singled out in the ARD documentary for a particularly poor record.

And now WADA has vowed to get to the bottom of the doping scandal but insisted that athletes had the right to be considered clean until proven to have cheated.

“WADA is committed to protecting the confidentiality of athletes; and, therefore, has asked its Independent Commission to commence its investigation with urgency,” said WADA president Craig Reedie in a statement.

“We are confident that the IAAF, which has formally agreed to full cooperation with the Commission with respect to its inquiries, is equally committed.”

But Reedie hit out at ARD and the Sunday Times for the manner of their investigation.

“WADA deplores the manner in which this data was obtained, leaked to the media and analysed,” he said.

“To suggest or imply doping with respect to any athlete whose data is contained within the database is, at the very least, irresponsible and potentially libellous.”

WADA director general David Howman, who previously said it would be “reckless” to draw conclusions based on the leaked data, warned against accusing athletes.

“A portion of the data within the database pre-dates the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP), which was introduced in 2009,” he said.

“This data could not possibly be considered doping, legally or otherwise.

“In addition, atypical blood data, which may be within this database from 2009-2012, is not necessarily indicative of doping.”

ARD and the Sunday Times passed on their information to Australian doping experts Michael Ashenden and Robin Parisotto, who concluded that doping was far more widespread than previously believed.

In the analysis of the blood levels of the medal-winners at world championships and Olympics between 2001 and 2012, every third medal was won by athletes, for whom one or even both experts had identified suspicious blood values in the database.

For every sixth medal winner at least one, they claimed, had doped in the course of his/her career.

However, Howman said WADA rules require unanimity between three experts to prove doping. – Agence France-Presse

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