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Russia’s specialist adviser on anti-doping Natalia Zhelanova still remains missing

Natalia Zhelanova was a 36-year-old former athlete when appointed as an ‘anti- doping adviser’ to Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, in April 2015, just as the international community was scrutinising allegations of a state-sponsored doping plot in Russia.

Fifteen months later after her name had appeared in a report by corruption investigator Richard McLaren, Mutko announced he had temporarily suspended Zhelanova. And since that day, July 19, 2016, she has not been seen or heard from in public.

‘I’m temporarily suspended from my role until findings of the McLaren report are checked,’ she tweeted that day. ‘All who know me know I’m passionate about fighting doping.’

Zhelanova then vanished from public life. ‘I don’t know what happened to her,’ Grigory Rodchenkov, former head of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory, the Anti-Doping Center, tells the MoS. ‘She disappeared.’

Rodchenkov theorises she was prevented from leaving Russia lest she, like him, turn whistleblower.

Zhelanova’s name was briefly headline news in summer 2015 when this newspaper revealed she had been a conduit between Mutko and the then president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Britain’s Sir Craig Reedie.

Reedie was criticised for sending Mutko a ‘comfort letter’ via Zhelanova, telling Mutko that he valued their relationship (Reedie and Mutko’s friendship).

This was frowned upon by many insiders as naive at a time when WADA should be acting as a neutral policeman.

Rodchenkov reveals that Zhelanova and Reedie were in frequent contact around this time and ‘would exchange texts on a very regular basis’.

He adds, ‘They’d talk daily but I don’t know what they were talking about. Natalia was proud to show Mutko her texts from Reedie. For me, it seems strange. What did they have in common to stay in such close contact?’

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