News 17 June 2016

Analysis: Russian athletics remains suspended ahead of Rio 2016

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Council today decided that the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) has not met the reinstatement conditions it set out in December, meaning that Russian athletics remains suspended from international competition, less than 50 days before the start of the Rio 2016 Olympics. It also said that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) is still between 18 and 24 months away from compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code, however, details on how it made that assessment have yet to be released.

The IAAF also went further than banning just Russian athletes. “While RusAF remains suspended, no other representatives of RusAF – i.e. officials or athlete support personnel – should take part in international competition or in the affairs of the IAAF”, said IAAF President Sebastian Coe. However, the IAAF Council also unanimously approved a rule change that would allow athletes who can “clearly and convincingly show that they are not tainted by the Russian system, because they have been outside the country or subject to other strong anti-doping systems” to compete at international events under a neutral flag. However, it referred to this as a “tiny crack in the door”.

What is not clear is what will happen if a Russian athlete based overseas, who can otherwise prove that they are clean, has employed a Russian coach or Russian athlete support personnel. Will they be forced to dismiss them and will any action need to be taken by the IAAF? This provision also has the potential to throw suspicion onto elite athletes from any country who employ Russian staff.

The IAAF also revealed that Richard McLaren had shared some of the conclusions of his independent report, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) into allegations that the laboratory at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics had been subverted. The IAAF said that McLaren has found that tests sent to the Moscow laboratory had been filtered in collaboration with the Russian Ministry of Sport, to ensure that the appropriate tests would not take place for certain athletes. This was later confirmed in a WADA statement, but details will not be available until the full report is published on 15 July.

The idea that RUSADA is still a long way away from compliance and that the Russian Ministry of Sport does appear to be involved in systemic Russian doping – as has long been alleged – will put pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to take Russia’s ban beyond athletics. On Tuesday next week in Lausanne the IOC will consider how it might allow Russian athletes who can prove that they are clean to compete in Rio. The IOC began considering this prospect in May, following a suggestion by its President, Thomas Bach.

In recent weeks, athletes from Great Britain wrote to WADA and German athletes wrote to the IOC asking them to ban Russia from Rio. Today’s IAAF announcement only adds to the perception that Russia’s doping problems extend beyond track and field.

However, there does appear hope for some. The IAAF Council also confirmed that it had approved a rule change which allows athletes that have made ‘an extraordinary contribution to anti-doping’ – such as Yuliya Stepanova – to compete under a neutral flag. Stepanova blew the whistle on systemic Russian doping by sending a signed affidavit to the IAAF in April 2014. As she was unconvinced that any action was being taken, she went to journalist Hajo Seppelt with her information in December 2014. It appears that she now has an answer to her request as to whether she can compete in Rio. For her, at least, the future looks bright.

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