iStock/Thinkstock(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) — The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced today that it has upheld the ban imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) on Russia’s track and field athletes.
Meeting in the Swiss city of Lausanne, the IOC said that the widespread doping allegations in Russia casts “very serious doubts on the presumption of innocence” on Russian athletes and every athlete from the country who wants to compete in the Olympics will have to undergo an individual doping evaluation from an independent lab before being allowed to compete.
Although some Russian media and officials had pinned hopes on the IOC intervening in the ban, most indications were that the Olympic body would affirm the IAAF decision. On Saturday, the IOC released a statement that it “fully respected” the IAAF decision and said it accepted the IAAF’s right to determine athletes’ eligibility to compete.
Many Russians feel the doping investigations and the Olympic ban are part of a political campaign to punish Russia. The country’s sports minister told Interfax that athletes were “hostages of these political decisions, and of the pressure that’s being exerted on the country.”
Russia’s president Vladimir Putin on Friday called the IAAF decision “unfair.”
The ban comes amid suggestions that all Russian athletes, including those outside of track and field, could be banned from the Rio Games if a new World Anti-Doping Agency investigation finds that a doping coverup took place at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.
Ahead of the meeting, Russian officials warned that they were not hoping for anything from the IOC summit. Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, in an interview with the news agency Interfax, said he was not expecting “any kind of decisions” from the IOC, which he said was not empowered to lift the bar on Russia’s track and field athletes.
On Friday, the IAAF said that it was keeping a “very tiny crack” open for clean Russian athletes to still compete in Rio, but it was insistent it would not be under the Russian colors. The body said a very small number of Russian athletes could be permitted to compete under “a neutral flag” if they can prove they were not “tainted” by the systemic doping in the country and were also able to present clean tests taken outside of Russia. Some Russian officials have expressed hopes that the IOC might somehow act to widen this opening.
The IOC’s president, Thomas Bach, has previously suggested athletes with an independently proven test record could be allowed to compete as individuals. Some Russian athletes have said they would consider this option, although others have already ruled it out, including the two-time Olympic champion, pole-vaulter, Elena Isinbaeva.
Russia’s track and field athletes were first suspended in November, after the World Anti-Doping Agency published a damning report accusing the country of running a sprawling coverup of doping, supported by the F.S.B. security service. The country committed to fixing its anti-doping procedures, but after a six-month evaluation, an IAAF commission found a “deep-rooted culture of doping” still existed in Russia and that it was still too difficult to be sure which athletes were not part of it.
While they waited to learn their fate, Russia’s track and field athletes were competing today at the country’s national championships, which coincided with the IOC meeting. Held in the sleepy provincial city of Cheboksary, about 400 miles from Moscow, the event is normally the final qualifying event for Russia’s Olympic team selection.
In light of the ban though, pained uncertainty hung over the event. Athletes, with the words “Fair Play” printed on their competition numbers, pressed for qualifying results in front of a small crowd.
“You can probably compare it to the explosion of an atom bomb, just without human casualties,” said Lyukman Adams, a triple jumper, who won a silver medal at the 2014 European Championships. “One thousand four hundred days of preparation and in one day it’s all finished.”
Sergey Shubenkov, the world champion in the 110m hurdlers, told reporters he was trying not think about the ban while he ran. “I’m concentrating on my race,” he said, after completing a qualifying heat.
Shubenkov, who has run the hurdles in under 13 seconds, was among Russia’s best medal hopes.
Adams, echoing several other Russia athletes, said Russia’s track and field federation should now appeal the IAAF ban in court.
There are indications that the track and field ban could yet become a complete ban on Russian athletes from the Rio Olympics. On Monday, Craig Reedie, WADA’s president hinted the body was considering recommending all Russian athletes be barred if a new investigation into allegations of a cover up at the Sochi Olympics showed them to be true. Reedie said he inclined to create a “precedent-setting” opportunity if that happened, the Guardian reported.
In Cheboksary’s stadium, spectators seconded those views.
“There’s no chance of us going to the Olympics, because nobody wants us there,” said Andrei Foren, who was watching his daughter train at the stadium, wearing a T-shirt branded with a photograph of Putin sailing a speedboat. “They’ve united against us.”
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