Vienna – The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) unanimously voted Friday to keep a suspension imposed on Russia last November for systematic doping. The ban on the country for the Rio Olympics followed a report by a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commission that alleged state-sponsored doping and cover-ups in Russia’s track and field team.

A new WADA report revealed Wednesday 52 failed tests since November, and a number of cases of remarkable attempts to cheat by avoiding, obstructing or intimidating drug testers. The latest information released by the agency shows that a “significant amount” of Russian athletes had evaded drug tests over the last semester.

The decision was made after the IAAF leaders in Vienna heard recommendations from a task force that monitors the doping scandal. Image courtesy of Hurriyet

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko claimed the country had successfully cleaned up its anti-doping system and was ready to be considered for readmission, but his last-minute plea was rejected by the IAAF. Since November, the Russians have offered to lead extra drug testing and even allowed international observers into their national anti-doping agency, according to LA Times.

IAFF: Russia’s efforts to regain international credibility have not been enough

The IAAF, the world athletics’ governing body, said some progress had been made in reform but ruled that it had not been enough, Reuters reported. IAAF’s Rune Andersen, who oversees Russia’s failed attempts to reform, said there would not be a single athlete competing in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics under a Russian flag.

Andersen, IAAF task force leader, said the head coach and many of the athletes on the Russian athletics team do not seem to be interested in admitting the extent of the doping scandal in the country and that certain coaches and members of the team apparently prefer to ignore the doping rules, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

IAAF’s president Sebastian Coe told reporters after a meeting in Vienna that the decision had been unanimous and that it had not been about politics whatsoever. In contrast, Russian president Vladimir Putin clearly denied that authorities in his country had ever supported doping and called on sport’s governing bodies to reject the idea of using sports to press for anti-Russian actions. His spokesman said legal measures would be taken to defend Russian athletes against a suspension.

Debate over collective and individual rights

The Russian Sports ministry appealed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to “consider the impact that our athletes’ exclusion will have on the dreams and the people of Russia,” according to a report by The Washington Post. It added that clean athletes would see their dreams destroyed if they at the end have to pay for the illegal behavior of other athletes and Russian officials.

These innocent members of the track and field team have spent many years getting ready to represent their country in the Rio Olympics and their sacrifice most certainly will be wasted, the ministry noted.

It expressed extreme disappointment at the decision to ban the entire team from the 2016 Summer Games and Minister Mutko said he hoped the IOC could find a solution to prevent innocent athletes from being punished.

The IOC is concerned about innocent athletes being included unjustly in the ban and is considering granting them a special dispensation, as reported by Reuters. The committee said it would discuss the next steps on Saturday at a telephone meeting of its executive board.

Coe affirmed the IAAF was the only organism capable of making decisions about athletes’ eligibility to compete at this year’s Olympics, but he suggested that there might be a way for some Russian athletes to take part in the Games as neutral competitors, as long as they had undergone adequate drug testing abroad.

An IOC Olympic Summit is expected to discuss the issue next Tuesday in Lausanne.

Yelena Isinbayeva, two-time Olympic pole vault champion, is one of the Russian athletes who have been preparing themselves to compete in Rio. She has announced she would go to court on human rights grounds if barred from taking part in the games, according to The Washington Post. Similar cases could go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“We will look at the next step for us,” said IOC vice president John Coates earlier in Australia, as quoted by The Washington Post. “It’s the IOC who have been testing and re-testing samples. The debate next Tuesday will be on the issue of individual justice and rights.”

As for the possibility to compete under the IOC flag, Isinbayeva affirmed she would only appear in the Rio Olympics as a Russian, the BBC reported. The athlete won Olympic gold in 2004 and 2008 and is also a triple outdoor world champion. She said she understood that the IAAF needed to stay firm against doping but it was unfair to forbid her and other clean Russian athletes to represent their country at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

She added that she had never failed a doping test throughout her 20-year sports career.

Sports leaders will also address reports that Russia established a much-elaborated system it developed to beat anti-doping measures in the Sochi-hosted Winter Olympics two years ago. In those games, Russia won more gold medals (13) than any other country. The host nation obtained most of its gold medals in Figure Skating and Short track skating, with three medals each.

Source: Washington Post