Russia to learn if its track team can go to Rio Olympics
More damning evidence of doping irregularities pour in
Russia will learn on Friday if its track and field athletes will be allowed to compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, as more damning evidence of doping irregularities pour in.
The latest World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report on the obstruction of drug-testing in Russia came shortly before the sport's governing body, the IAAF, meets in Vienna to decide whether to admit Russia's athletes to the Olympics.
Russia's track and field athletes have been suspended from international competition since November, after a report by an independent WADA panel alleged a widespread, state-backed doping system.
Russia has insisted that it has abided by all international requests to clean up its program and that its athletes should be allowed to compete in Rio.
Even if the IAAF decides not to lift the ban completely, it could consider a compromise that allows individual Russian athletes to go to Rio if they have not been implicated in doping and have demonstrated they are clean.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has scheduled a summit of sports leaders next Tuesday to consider "the difficult decision between collective responsibility and individual justice."
If Russia's athletes are banned from Rio, it would be the first time such a large number of athletes from one country are prevented from competing at the Olympics because of doping. Russia would normally enter a team of around 200 track athletes for the games.
Bulgarian weightlifters have already been banned from Rio by the international federation because of doping, but their number is small compared to the Russian track team.
Advocating for clean athletes
Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva is among the Russian athletes hoping to compete in Rio. She has threatened to go to court on human rights grounds if excluded from the games. Other cases could end up in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
"The fraud of dishonest people should not jeopardize the careers of the other innocent fellow athletes and throw a stand on our country's reputation," a group of 13 Russian Olympic athletes said in an open letter to IOC President Thomas Bach.
Many athlete groups outside Russia have called on the IAAF to take a hard line, citing a loss of faith in the entire drug-testing system.
Former WADA president Dick Pound, whose report led to Russia's suspension, said he saw little reason for the ban to be lifted.
"I don't think it's an easy case to make that all should be forgiven," he told The Associated Press. "A lot of credibility is at stake for the Russians, the IAAF and the IOC. If you're convinced it's a state administered system, your athletes have to pay the price for that. There is no reason athletes around the world should be put at risk. If it's tough love, it's tough love."
The IAAF council, chaired by IAAF president Sebastian Coe, will make its decision after receiving a recommendation from a five-person task force, headed by Norway's Rune Andersen, that has been monitoring Russia's reform efforts.
"My guess is that Seb and Thomas (Bach) are under considerable pressure to find some kind of formula that lets Russia in, and that opinion among various constituents is very much divided," Pound said.
A suspension would be a huge blow to Russia's reputation and aspiration of maintaining its status as a world power in Olympic sports, and would tarnish its image even more as it prepares to host the next soccer World Cup in 2018.
The latest WADA report, issued Wednesday, alleged that Russian athletes and government agencies continued to obstruct and deceive drug testers. It said testers were intimidated by officials from Russia's FSB security service and that packages containing samples have been tampered with by Russian customs services.
The original WADA report in November came after a documentary by Germany's ARD broadcaster in December 2014 first spoke of a state-run doping system, based on revelations by Yulia Stepanova, a middle-distance runner who herself was banned for doping in 2013, and her husband Vitaly, a former official in the Russian anti-doping agency.
The IAAF will also rule Friday on a request by Stepanova to be allowed to compete in Rio, though not for Russia.
Possible scenarios for Russia
Could there be a compromise?
- Olympic and Russian officials have argued it would be unjust to ban the entire track and field team because it would punish those athletes who have not done anything wrong. Athletes, including Isinbayeva, could mount legal challenges if they are kept out. A potential compromise — favored among top IOC leaders — would give Russian athletes with a proven clean doping record and who have passed a certain number or recent tests the chance to compete. Critics, however, say evidence of a corrupt, state-sponsored doping system is enough to exclude the whole team in order to protect the rest of the world's clean athletes. Both viewpoints are likely to be aired Friday.
Could the IOC overrule the IAAF decision?
- That seems unlikely. The IAAF controls the sport and the competition, including eligibility of athletes. If the IOC decided to alter the decision, it would undermine the system and Coe. "The IOC will have to decide whether the IAAF runs track and field or whether the IOC does," longtime Canadian IOC member and former WADA president Dick Pound said. "If the IOC stepped in, it would be fraught with difficulty."
What about banning the entire Russian Olympic team?
- The IAAF is ruling only on the eligibility of track and field athletes. While some critics have called for Russia's entire Olympic team to be excluded, there is no indication of that happening. However, if further allegations of state-backed doping across other Russian sports are proven, the issue will arise. No country has ever been thrown out of the Olympics for doping.
Could Russia boycott the games?
- That would be the nuclear option. Conceivably, Russia could decide to pull out its entire Olympic team if its track athletes are banned. However, no Russian officials have publicly made that threat, and staging a boycott would jeopardize Russia's status for all future Olympics.