Russia track suspended by IAAF, putting Rio Olympics participation in doubt – USA TODAY
The Rio Olympics might be over for Russia’s track and field athletes long before the gamesÂ even begin.
The Russian track federation was suspended by the International Association of Athletic FederationsÂ on Friday and its athletes barred from international competition asÂ punishment for a widespread and state-sanctioned doping program. The 22-1 vote came fourÂ daysÂ after a report by a World Anti-Doping Agency commission outlined a “deeply rooted culture of cheating” among Russian officials, coaches and athletes.
Itâs the first time the IAAF has banned a country for doping, but president Sebastian Coe said there was no otherÂ choice.
“We discussed and agreed that the whole system has failed the athletes, not just in Russia, but around the world,” Coe said in a statement.Â “This has been a shameful wake up call and we are clear that cheating at any level will not be tolerated.”
The suspension takes effect immediately, meaning Russian athletes won’t be able to compete in any international events until the IAAF is satisfied the country hasÂ cleaned up its tainted drug program and is fully compliant with the WADA code. Coe said Russia will have to satisfy “a list of criteria” before the suspension will be lifted, and promised that the verification team would be “tough.”
Rune Andersen, a Norwegian who is an expert in international anti-doping, will lead the IAAF’s inspection team. Three members of the IAAF’s Council will be appointed in the next few days.
“We will get the change that we want and only then will Russian athletes be able to return to competition,” Coe said.
Even if that means banning the Russians from Rio.
With only nine months until the Rio Games, some have questioned whether the Russians will have enough time to make the changes necessary for their athletes to be allowed to compete at the Olympics.Â But Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said before the IAAF issued its decisionÂ that he didn’t expect any suspension to last long.
“We may miss one or two competitions,” Mutko told The Associated Press. “But for athletes to miss the Olympics and world championships would be real stupidity.”
The suspension only applies to Russiaâs track and field athletes. Mutko has already promised that the rest of the Russian team would not boycott the Rio Games in protest.
As stunning as the IAAF’s punishment was, so, too was the scope and boldness of the doping uncoveredÂ by the WADA commission. Not since East Germany has there been evidence of this kind of systemic cheating by a country.
During its 11-month investigation, the WADA commission foundÂ Russia had interfered with testing, destroyed samples and covered up positive tests. The head of Moscow’s anti-doping lab,Â Grigory Rodchenkov, destroyed more than 1,400 samples after WADA had asked for them. There also was evidence thatÂ members of Russiaâs security agency infiltrated the drug-testing lab at the Sochi Olympics.
Athletes were able to bribe employees of Russiaâs anti-doping agency to ignore evidence of performance-enhancing drug use, while some officials extorted athletes in exchange for their silence. Former IAAF president Lamine Diack is under investigation for allegedly accepting $1 million in bribes to cover up positive tests.
“The WADA report was clear in its evidence and unequivocal in its recommendations. From (the IAAF’s) perspective, in light of the evidence, suspension was the only proper course of action,” said Stephanie Hightower, president of USA Track and Field. “The IAAF has an obligation to protect athletes, and this action sends a clear message to clean athletes that protecting them and protecting the sport, with a culture of accountability, is our top priority.”
Russia initially rejected the WADA commission report, claiming it was biased and there wasnât evidence to support the findings. But it softened in hopes of avoiding suspension, agreeing to admit to some of the allegations.
Rodchenkov resigned his position as head of the Moscow lab, which has since been suspended by WADA, and Mutko indicated that Russia would be open to creating a new anti-doping agency.Â Valentin Balakhnichev, who was president of the track federation for more than 20 years until stepping down in February, was asked to resign from the Russian Olympic Committteeâs executive board.
But given the scope of the scandal, the IAAF rejected Russiaâs efforts.
“We are angry at the damage being caused to the reputation and credibility of athletics,” four-time Olympic silver medalistÂ Frankie FredericksÂ said, speaking on behalf of the IAAF’s Athletes Commission.
The IAAF also said Russia would no longer host the World Junior Championships, scheduled for July 19-24 in Kazan, or the World Race Walking Cup, which was to beÂ May 7-8 in Cheboksary.
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