Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) — Russia may learn Friday whether it will miss this summer’s Olympic Games in Brazil, potentially becoming the first country to be excluded from the Olympics over doping by some of its athletes.
The world athletics’ top body, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), will meet in Vienna Friday to decide whether to reinstate Russia’s track and field federation, which has been suspended from international competitions after it was implicated in an elaborate alleged state-sponsored doping cover-up in November.
If the decision goes against Russia, most of the country’s athletes will be barred from the Olympics.
The decision hinges on Russia’s proving it has done enough to overhaul its anti-doping program and that its athletes can be trusted to compete fairly in Rio de Janeiro. Mixed in with the decision, though, is whether a blanket ban on Russian athletes would also unfairly punish innocent athletes.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) published a damning report in November, detailing an elaborate cover-up directed by Russian officials and managed by Russia’s F.S.B. security service, that permitted dozens of athletes to compete while doping, including at the 2012 London Olympics.
The over 300-page report not only found that a corrupt laboratory allowed athletes to make positive tests disappear, but accused Russia’s national athletics team of forcing athletes to dope even if they did not want to.
Russia has denied that the cover up was managed by the government, insisting it was the product of individual athletes and trainers, working with corrupt officials. It has, however, accepted to reform its anti-doping systems.
An IAAF commission since January has been evaluating whether Russia has complied with the criteria for reinstatement. This commission has passed its findings to IAAF for consideration ahead of the decision, which will be presented as based on its recommendations.
Before the vote, Russia’s sports minister said that the country had met all the requirements to be reinstated, suggesting it would be unfair for Russia’s federation to remain suspended. “In the end, we have met all the criteria, we have done everything they wanted us to do,” he said. “What more can we do?”
But other officials have admitted to be far more nervous, saying that while Russia has made considerable reforms, it is not possible to completely meet some of the criteria, such as producing a totally new attitude toward doping in just a few months.
“I hope my colleagues will understand it; of course, it’s impossible to change absolutely for all athletes and coaches this mentality during five to six months,” said Mikhail Butov, head of Russia’s athletics federation.
Even if the Russian athletics federation is be barred Friday, there is still a chance Russian athletes will be able to compete at the Olympics. The head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, has suggested that athletes with an “independently proven test record” should potentially be allowed to compete, regardless of the status of their national federation.
The IOC has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday to discuss the question of Russian athletes’ eligibility after the IAAF decision; many believe the meeting is intended to provide a window for Russia to still compete if its federation remain banned.
The idea of allowing clean athletes to perform at Rio has been cautiously supported by a number of other international sports bodies and some national federations. The head of U.K. sports, Ed Warner, told The Daily Telegraph that, in principle, he thought the idea was right, but they would have to “police it very hard,” meaning such athletes would have to be thoroughly tested.
Since the scandal, Russia has accepted an unusually intensive testing regime for its potential Olympic athletes: They now have to pass three to six tests within six months, conducted by foreign anti-doping agencies. The country has created a pool of about 200 athletes to be subjected to the tests and many of Russia’s top athletes have already received the three clean tests. But others are still waiting, athletes have told ABC News.
A ban on the federation today, though, would still likely provoke a furious reaction from Moscow. Throughout the scandal, the Kremlin has attacked the potential ban as a U.S.-backed plot, meant to punish Russia and undermine its authorities.
It’s a sentiment shared by many Russian sports officials, athletes and coaches, who say they believe Russia has been unfairly portrayed and that its problem with doping is no worse than any other country.
Sports are a key part of President Vladimir Putin’s rule in Russia, who has made it a measure of the country’s national greatness. Analysts say that stripping Russia of the Olympics would force the Kremlin to again ratchet up anti-Western feeling and respond aggressively.
“I am literally scared of what they might do,” Maksim Trudolyubov, a columnist at respected Russian business paper Vedomosti, said. “Not tomorrow. But it’s building up. It’s building up this crazy feeling of being cornered.”
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