Russia’s athletics team unlikely to overturn Rio Olympics doping ban

Russia’s athletics team unlikely to overturn Rio Olympics doping ban

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Russia’s hopes of persuading the International Olympic Committee to let its athletics team compete in Rio look set to be dashed at a summit in Lausanne on Tuesday.

On Friday, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) voted unanimously in Vienna to uphold a global competition ban on Russia’s athletics federation that has been in place since November.

That unprecedented sanction was imposed after an 11-month World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) investigation uncovered systemic doping within Russian athletics.

Russian athletes and politicians reacted with fury to Friday’s vote, with sports minister Vitaly Mutko saying the IAAF should be disbanded and two race walkers immediately filing cases against the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

And with the IOC having already announced its “Olympic summit…to address the difficult decision between collective responsibility and individual justice”, many observers had expected Olympic chiefs to dilute the punishment.

But that was before a statement on Saturday from the IOC’s executive board that said: “The IOC welcomes and supports the IAAF’s strong stance against doping.

“This is in line with the IOC’s long-held zero-tolerance policy.”

It continued to say the board held a teleconference to discuss the decision, noting the report made by the IAAF’s task force in Russia that outlined just how much work was needed before the sporting superpower could be trusted again.

The IOC’s 16-member board, which includes president Thomas Bach, WADA president Sir Craig Reedie and CAS president John Coates added that the “eligibility of athletes in any international competition including the Olympic Games is a matter for the respective international federation”.

This last point effectively closes another door for Russia, as it had hoped its political muscle could secure a more lenient sanction from the IOC, particularly as Bach and others were believed to be more sympathetic to their case.

But this optimism ignored the legal strength of the IAAF’s carefully constructed decision and the erosion of support for Russia at the IOC as fresh doping scandals have emerged.
On the first point, Rune Andersen, the leader of the IAAF task force, said they had taken “external legal advice” to make sure their decision was “proportionate” so it would stand up to the expected challenges at CAS.

This is why the IAAF will allow “a handful” of Russian athletes who can demonstrate spotless anti-doping records, verified by credible testing agencies, to apply to compete in Rio as independents.

This measure is usually only reserved for athletes from disputed territories or from countries emerging from armed conflict, although the most famous example of athletes appearing under an IOC banner came at the 1980 Olympics when many western nations, in partial support of the American-led boycott in protest at the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, competed in Moscow under the Olympic flag.

The summit on Tuesday is expected to clarify the details of how any Russian athletes – or athletes from other countries under the microscope for doping issues, such as Kenya – might compete in Rio.

The IAAF, for example, was unable to confirm if Russian athletes would be allowed to march with their team-mates in the opening and closing ceremonies, or if any medals would count to Russia’s total.

IAAF President Lord Coe
IAAF President Lord Coe

Despite these details, IAAF president Lord Coe said the decision was not reached in an “ad hoc” fashion but was based on 44 “verification criteria” that Russia had to meet to earn reinstatement.

Coe acknowledged that Russia had made some progress but not enough “to give us full confidence that this was the right moment for the reintroduction of the Russian federation or athletes”.

The former London 2012 boss and double Olympic champion told reporters he would be taking this message to the Lausanne summit and he was confident the IOC would respect it.

“We have a good relationship with the IOC – there are 10,500 athletes at an Olympic Games and a fifth of them are athletes,” Coe said.

“We are the biggest international federation in the Olympic movement so nothing I am going to say now will come as a huge shock to the IOC.

“The criteria for eligibility for athletes to compete an international event resides with the IAAF. It is a very simple principle.

“That is absolutely the way the IOC would recognise the primacy of an international federation in making judgements around eligibility… in the best interests of (their) sport.”

This is a point other international federations will be considering as they head to Lausanne for the IOC summit, as it is now clear Russia’s doping problems extend beyond athletics.

Last week’s damning WADA update on the current status of anti-doping in Russia was probably the final nail for the athletics team’s hopes of overturning its ban, but equally damaging has been the news leaking from the investigation into claims Russia ran a state-sponsored doping programme at and before the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The IAAF task force has been sharing information with that investigation, which is led by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, and Andersen revealed in Vienna it had already corroborated some of the claims of cheating made by the former director of Moscow’s anti-doping lab Grigory Rodchenkov.

McLaren’s report will be completed by July 15, two weeks before the start of the Olympics, but if it is bad as many are now predicting Russia might consider itself fortunate to have any competitors in Rio, whether they are wearing neutral kit or not.

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