Thursday 27 October 2016

After upholding ban, IAAF leaves 'crack in the door' for clean Russian athletes to compete in Rio

Matt Slater

Published 17/06/2016 | 16:40

IAAF president Seb Coe. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
IAAF president Seb Coe. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

Russian athletes who can prove they are not doping have "a crack in the door" that could still see them at the Rio Olympics.

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Rune Andersen, who led the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Task Force in Russia, said an athlete who had a record of clean tests from "credible anti-doping agencies" could compete in Rio but not in Russian colours.

The Russian athletics team, however, remain banned from global competition after a unanimous vote at a meeting of the IAAF Council in Vienna to continue the sanction imposed seven months ago.

Andersen, whose team have been on the ground in Russia assessing efforts to overhaul the disgraced athletics and anti-doping structures, explained that this concession to individuals was to ensure the overall punishment was "proportionate" and who therefore stand up to legal challenge.

"The system in Russia has been so tainted, it's difficult to pick the clean athletes," the Norwegian anti-doping expert said.

"We know that one, five or even 100 negative tests doesn't necessarily mean you're clean - history has shown us that.

"But there is a very tiny crack in the door for those who have been subjected to rigorous testing abroad.

"The crack is quite narrow; not many athletes will get through it. They will have to show that they have come through a credible system and are not tainted."

Andersen added that the number of athletes who could qualify this way would likely be just a handful, perhaps as few as four.

Despite their continuing protestations of unfair treatment, this compromise will be privately welcomed by the Russian authorities as the decision to maintain the ban on their athletics federation was expected given the drip-feed of negative reports about the country's clean-up effort.

Recent days have seen the Russian public relations campaign shift from listing the various reforms they have made since November to focusing on the inherent injustice of a collective punishment.

They now have a toe in the door, so to speak, that they can try to exploit when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meets to discuss the IAAF decision in Lausanne on Tuesday.

As IAAF president Lord Coe repeatedly said, the final decision on Olympic eligibility is "a matter for the IOC".

And while Andersen and Coe were explaining the council's decisions to the media, Russian pole vault queen Yelena Isinbaeva repeated her threat to sue the IAAF and IOC for an infringement of her human rights if prevented from competing at a fifth Games.

Isinbaeva, a double Olympic champion who has been tested around the world for almost 20 years, will be heartened by the IAAF concession, which required a rule change, but will not like Andersen's comment that she might not be able to wear national kit.

The idea of competing under an IOC banner - as athletes from disputed regions or banned National Olympic Committees have done in the past - has been mooted several times, but Isinbaeva dismissed it last month.

When asked if Russian athletes could still compete in Rio in national vests, Andersen said you can never "guarantee anything in a world full of lawyers", and both he and Coe know all of their careful work could be unpicked at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The central decision to maintain the ban on the federation, however, looks a lot more secure as the IAAF laid the groundwork by setting out 44 "verification criteria" before reinstatement.

"Although there has been significant progress...several important criteria have not been fully satisfied," the task force's report said.

"The deep-seated culture of tolerance (or worse) for doping that got (the federation) suspended in the first place appears not to have changed materially to date."

It then outlined continuing resistance to change from the Russian team's head coach and many of the athletes, and said the Russian anti-doping agency, which was also suspended in November, is 18 to 24 months away from "full operational compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code".

That last line means this messy and unprecedented situation could continue beyond next year's World Athletics Championships in London.

There is one Russian athlete, however, who can now definitely look forward to the resumption of her career, Yuliya Stepanova.

The 800m runner and her husband Vitaliy were the whistleblowers who helped uncover just how rotten the Russian system had become when they first took their story to WADA and then to a German documentary-maker.

Her help in the fight against doping means she is one athlete who will slip through that crack in the door.

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 particular, Yuliya Stepanova's case should be considered favourably."

Coe added: "I am proud also that the council accepted the recommendation to refer Yuliya Stepanova's application to an appropriate panel under this amended rule as soon as possible.

Russia's athletics team remains banned from global competition after the sport's governing body voted unanimously against lifting the suspension for systemic doping.

Despite desperate Russian attempts to have the ban lifted before the Rio Olympics in August, the International Association of Athletics Federation's (IAAF) 27-strong council decided Russia had not met the criteria for reinstatement.

The All-Russia Athletics Federation was banned in November following an 11-month investigation by an independent commission chaired by former World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound.

Russia will now take its case to an International Olympic Committee meeting in Lausanne on Tuesday, with the further possibility of challenges against an Olympic ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Press Association

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