Russia’s suspension from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) will remain in place after a failure to meet criteria required by the body’s Task Force.
A rule change has been passed potentially allowing athletes “not tainted by the system” to compete as independent athletes, but it has been emphasized that only those based outside Russia in recent years would be eligible. Only a “handful” would be expected to participate. Passing doping tests is no guarantee of being clean, Task Force chair Rune Andersen said, due to the deep-rooted problems within the Russian system which have still not been addressed. In a damning report today, delivered to the IAAF ruling Council, it was found that “several important verification criteria have not yet been fully satisfied”.
“The deep-seated culture of tolerance (or worse) for doping that got the All-Russia Athletic Federation [ARAF, but referred to as RusAF in the report] suspended in the first place appears not to have changed materially to date.
“The head coach of the Russian athletics team and many of the athletes on the team appear unwilling to acknowledge the nature and extent of the doping problem in Russian athletes; and certain athletes and coaches appear willing to ignore the doping rules.
“…Efforts to test athletes in Russia have continued to encounter serious obstacles and difficulties.”
The report, which also took advice from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), predicted that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) remains 18 to 24 months away from being deemed compliant. In the meantime, no Russian athletes or officials will be able to participate in the sport, with the country’s Council member Mikhail Butov also required to stand-down. This all comes after the ARAF was suspended by the IAAF in November following the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) report of systemic and state-sponsored doping within the athletics team. Forty-four specific criteria were then drawn up by the Task Force.
All but two members of the 27-strong Council were present for today’s meeting, with 24 participating in the discussions on Russia due to Butov’s absence to avoid a conflict of interest. No vote was made due to a unanimous decision that the suspension should remain in place.
Concerns were raised by several members, insidethegames understands, including Ukrainian vice-president Sergey Bubka and Morocco’s IOC vice-president Nawal El-Moutawakel, but all ultimately decided in favor.
“I think our decision sends a very very powerful message,” said IAAF President Sebastian Coe.
“There was an unanimous decision that Russian athletes could not return ‘without undermining the confidence of competitors and public.
“The decision was unanimous – politics did not play a part in that room today.
“This is a sad day, we recognize that.
“But unanimously, the judgement was made today, that over the long haul, we have to put systems in place that protect athletes – wherever they come from.”
The IAAF rule change approved today following a Task Force recommendation ruled that: “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.”
Some have already dismissed this as a loop-hole effectively allowing all Russians to compete.
But the IAAF were insisted this is not the case and that only those who can prove they were completely outside the Russian testing system would be accepted.
The change had been proposed following a recommendation from lawyers, they said.
Only “three or four” are expected to be allowed to compete.
One of these could be whistleblower Yuliya Stepanova, the middle-distance runner who returned from a doping ban to provide the revelations that started the investigation.
Andersen confirmed that athletes who have returned from a previous doping ban, like Stepanova, will not be barred from applying.
The situation regarding Russian athletes at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is certainly not over, however, with an Olympic Stakeholders Summit due to take place in Lausanne on Tuesday (June 21), chaired by IOC President Thomas Bach.
They would have to approve any decision for Russians to compete independently under the Olympic flag.
Any decision allowing Russians to compete in another way would now be interpreted an effectively overruling the IAAF decsion.
Coe, who will attend the Summit, reiterated how the “eligibility of athletes to compete in international competition is entirely a matter for the IAAF”.
The IOC are thought to be more sympathetic to the Russian position, with Bach a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But the body’s vice-president John Coates – also President of CAS – said today that Russia’s anti-doping decision was “rotten to the core”.
Coates, a close supporter of Bach on the IOC Executive Board, was speaking in his capacity as President of the Australian Olympic Committee, so it is not clear if his words were uttered in isolation, or are indicative of a wider IOC stance.
Impressions here are that the decision was a brave one, which, while expected following the latest revelations surrounding lingering Russian problems by WADA this week, still sets a strong precedent in the face of formidable sporting and political pressure.
By Nick Butler
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.