IAAF extends ban on Russian athletes ahead of Rio Olympics
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The world athletics governing body on Friday unanimously voted to extend the ban on the doping-tainted Russian federation, but left the door ajar for some of the country’s track and field stars to compete at the Rio Olympics as neutrals.
Despite a last-ditch campaign to overthrow the ban led by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Council, headed by Sebastian Coe, was unanimous in its decision to uphold the suspension.
But Coe said Russian athletes based outside of the Russian system "could potentially return to international competition as neutrals once their cases are reviewed by our doping review board".
He also said that Russian runner and whistleblower, Yulia Stepanova, may be given a chance to participate in the games after the IAAF council ruled that "any individual athlete who has made an extraordinary contribution to the fight against doping in sport should also be able to apply for such permission" to compete in international competition.
"I cannot say she will compete in Rio, but the council said they will look favourably on her, and there is a rule change today to allow it," Coe said afterward.
The IAAF imposed the ban on Russia in November over state-sponsored doping and mass corruption, and first extended it in March on the grounds that the criteria set for reinclusion had not been met.
But as Russian pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva reacted immediately by saying she would challenge the IAAF decision in court, an olive branch was proferred.
"If there are individual athletes who can clearly and convincingly show that they are not tainted by the Russian system because they have been outside the country, and subject to other, strong anti-doping systems, including effective drug testing, then there should be a process through which they can apply for permission to compete in international competitions, not for Russia, but as a neutral athlete," Coe said.
‘Final decision lies with IAAF’
Coe insisted that the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which meets in Lausanne on June 21, would not have the final say on eligibility of athletes in light of the August 5-21 Rio Olympics.
"The eligibility of athletes to compete internationally sits and lies with the IAAF," said Coe. "That's what the IOC would recognise."
In a damning verdict, the IAAF said that the Russian athletics federation was "at least 18-24 months away from returning to full operational compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code".
"There are detailed allegations, which are already partly substantiated, that the (Russian) Ministry of Sport, far from supporting the anti-doping effort, has in fact orchestrated systemic doping and the covering up of adverse analytical findings," the IAAF said.
"In such circumstances, the (IAAF) Taskforce is very clear that the reinstatement conditions have not yet been satisfied, and in particular that Russian athletes cannot yet credibly return to international competition without undermining the confidence of their competitors and the public in the integrity of that competition."
Russia says ‘will react’
The result of the IAAF Council vote came as no surprise given the latest damning report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), released on Wednesday.
Russia's Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said the decision had been expected. Russian investigators said Saturday they had launched a criminal case against the former head of the country's anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, who has alleged the government and the state security service were involved in cover-ups.
Rodchenkov, who has fled to the United States, last month described an elaborate doping cover-up scheme at the 2014 Sochi Olympics that involved at least 15 medalists, with the close involvement of the sports ministry and the FSB security service.
Last week German public broadcaster ARD aired a programme – based in part on documents from Rodchenkov – that alleged that Russian authorities had covered up doping cases despite calls for reform.
Russian officials have lambasted Rodchenkov for making bombshell allegations.
Investigators on Saturday accused Rodchenkov of "trying to conceal shortcomings and violations in his activities" and of undermining Russia's interests.
"Through his actions Rodchenkov caused substantial damage to the legally protected interests of the state," a statement said, adding that he had also violated "Russia's international interests" and had discredited the country's anti-doping policy.
WADA's new report said hundreds of attempts to carry out drug tests on Russian athletes this year had been thwarted, with drug testers facing intimidation and threats from armed Russian security forces while athletes continued to evade doping control officers.
The WADA summary, which was compiled with the help of UK Anti-Doping, said more than 736 tests between February 15 and May 29 were declined or cancelled for a variety of reasons ranging from sample collection to athlete whereabouts.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)