MONACO, March 10 – Russian athletes are unlikely to see their suspension from international competition lifted when the IAAF Council meet to discuss the athletics powerhouse’s ongoing bid to eradicate doping.
The Russian track and field federation (ARAF) was suspended by the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) in November after the latter acted on a sensational report by an independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that found evidence of state-sponsored doping and large-scale corruption in Russian athletics.
The two-day IAAF Council meeting starting Thursday will be presided over by Sebastian Coe, the British two-time Olympic 1500m gold medallist who has found himself at the centre of unprecedented attention since taking over the presidency from the now-disgraced Lamine Diack.
But there is little prospect of an easy way back into the international fold for Russian athletes, increasing the likelihood they might miss the Rio Olympics in August.
Dick Pound, co-author of the initial damning WADA report into Russian doping that prompted the ban, insisted Wednesday that there was still “a wall of denial” within Russian athletics and its federation was not doing enough to prove it was ready to take part at the Rio Olympics.
Speaking at the Tackling Doping in Sport conference in London, Pound said: “Even with the presence of credible evidence, there was, and to some extent there still is, a wall of denial.
“Russia, in the sport of athletics, is on the outside trying to get back in. The onus is on it to justify any readmission.
“It is also clear that opinion is divided on the matter of readmission. The Russians seem to assume that the controversy will disappear and there should be no question regarding their participation in Rio. No question.
“In other parts of the sporting world there is great resistance to any fast-track solution.
“It is a considerable hurdle for them and if the two organisations (WADA and the IAAF) are not satisfied that the clean competitors of the Games are protected then my guess is that they may not make it back for Rio.”
Pound was speaking just two days after Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner, tested positive for meldonium, a banned substance at this year’s Australian Open.
And his words also followed another explosive documentary by German broadcaster ARD detailing continued violations by Russia’s athletics programme.
Entitled “Doping Top Secret: Russia’s Red Herrings”, the ARD programme contained new allegations suggesting malpractice by several people in the Russian anti-doping system and alleges someone from the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) gave advance warning to athletes of testing plans.
“At a time when trust in sport is wafer thin, these troubling assertions will do little to reinforce confidence in the Russian anti-doping system when clean athletes need it most,” said WADA president Craig Reedie.
“The allegations suggest that there is still much, much work to be done in Russia and that we will need the full and unwavering cooperation of the Russian authorities to reverse the damage. Until this happens, clean athletes won’t be able to trust that there is a level playing field.
“I will not hesitate to act swiftly to ensure that any breaches to the Code are dealt with firmly and expeditiously,” Reedie said.
“Strong and decisive action by all sporting authorities is imperative if clean athletes, and indeed the public at large, are to retain belief in the integrity of sport.”
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko was quick to shrug off blame attributed in the ARD documentary, arguing that “to talk about the responsibility of the state in the case of every individual violation is impossible”.
“If people are guilty then they will be punished in accordance with the rules.”
The Council, on whose behalf Coe will address the media on Friday, could also examine the case of Kenya, the east African track power that has seen some 40 athletes caught up in drug scandals over the last three years and federation supremo Isaac Mwangin suspended for corruption involving cover ups.
WADA’s Reedie has informed Kenyan athletics officials they must conform to doping guidelines before April 5 or face their athletes being banned for the Rio Olympics.
“They are very well aware of what they need to do. They need to reply to us by April 5,” said the Briton. “They simply need to do it. If they don’t do it my compliance review committee will take the matter further.