By Dmitriy Rogovitskiy
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Swimming's world body FINA promised on Wednesday to investigate "as a matter of utmost urgency" new allegations of Russian doping if they could be substantiated by evidence.
The Times of London newspaper reported earlier that Russia had for years undertaken systematic doping in swimming and covered up test results.
The Russian swimming federation rejected the allegations, which come as the nation battles an athletics doping scandal that could prevent the country's track and field squad from competing at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.
FINA said in a statement it had noted the Times' allegations and was aware more could be made in coming days.
"We have called on the Times to share with us any information they may have which might assist us in our primary objective of protecting clean athletes in swimming," the statement said.
"Any new allegations of doping in our sport, which are substantiated by evidence and which have not already been addressed, will be investigated as a matter of utmost urgency, because we have absolutely zero tolerance for the use of performance-enhancing substances in swimming."
It added that, while not aware of any concrete evidence of systemic doping in Russian swimming, it had taken a "particularly robust approach" to anti-doping procedures regarding Russia and Russian competitions and provided a detailed breakdown of extensive testing carried out in the country.
The Times said more than a dozen Russian swimmers had been suspended in the past three years for doping.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said in a statement that it was aware of the claims and concerned by the report and its timing, which comes when trust in clean sport is "already in a perilous state".
“There is no doubt that today’s disturbing assertions of orchestrated doping in Russian swimming should be scrutinized,” said WADA President, Sir Craig Reedie. “WADA and its partners are under no illusions about the challenges facing sport’s integrity today.
“As a result of information and evidence collected, WADA will make an informed decision as to what form of inquiry is needed and who will conduct it.”
WADA said it will follow up by examining information provided by its Independent Commission. On the basis of this and potential information from other sources, it will make a decision regarding what level of inquiry is needed.
The Times report highlighted the role of Sergei Portugalov, Chief of the Russian Athletics Federation's Medical Commission, who was said to have provided banned substances to Russian athletes and was also involved in swimming.
Portugalov was named in a WADA report on systematic doping in Russian athletics a few months ago.
WADA said it was particularly concerned about allegations that Portugalov may be working in swimming.
"Calls for Russian swimmers to be excluded from the Games will grow after the investigation revealed that Portugalov, the doctor recommended for a lifetime ban by WADA as a key player at the heart of Russia's doping scandal, actively encouraged the national swimming team to adopt a systematic doping policy," the newspaper said.
"Since 2009, when Portugalov first offered to 'assist' Russian swimming, 23 swimmers have been handed suspensions for doping and the tally for all aquatics sports exceeds 40 in the past decade."
The Russian Swimming Federation said it condemned the taking of banned substances and "information regarding the hiding of positive doping tests is completely false."
"In terms of covering up of positive results for EPO, we can say that between 2012 and 2015, FINA found only case, against Vitaly Melnikov, who was subsequently disqualified," it said.
The Times report comes a day after Russia's wrestling federation said there were "tens" of positive tests among its athletes would could miss out on the Olympics.
Russian sport was thrown into turmoil last year when a report by WADA exposed endemic cheating and corruption in Russian athletics.
Russian track and field athletes have been suspended from international competition and will miss the Olympics if the country cannot get the ban overturned, a humiliating blow to the pride and prestige of a sporting superpower.
Beckie Scott, chairwoman of WADA's athletes' commission and an IOC member, told the Times that Russian swimming needed to be investigated.
"It's fair to say there are some high-risk sports which need to be looked at as a priority and swimming is one of them," she said. "There's a real credibility issue at stake."
(Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Alan Baldwin and Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Mitch Phillips and Tom Heneghan)