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Russia doping fall-out clouds Rio build-up

Russia’s weightlifting and track and field teams have been barred wholesale from the Games, which open on Friday, with Russian participation in other sports still unclear © AFP / Andrej Isakovic

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug 1 – Russia’s weightlifting federation launched a last-ditch appeal against its ban from the Rio Olympics on Monday as fall-out from revelations of a state-orchestrated doping cover-up clouded the build-up to the Games.

As the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) sparred with the Olympics body over the handling of the Russian scandal, the country’s weightlifters took their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Russia’s weightlifting and track and field teams have been barred wholesale from the Games, which open on Friday, with Russian participation in other sports still unclear.

It follows the discovery of systematic, state-backed Russian doping culminating in last month’s McLaren report, which found Russia’s sports ministry and secret service were involved in a large-scale cover-up of positive tests.

The findings of the report have rocked final preparations for Rio and prompted a terse exchange between the anti-drugs body and the International Olympic Committee.

WADA’s president Craig Reedie hit back at IOC chief Thomas Bach after he criticised the anti-doping body for the release of the McLaren report which came less than three weeks before the Rio opening ceremony.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach listens to a question during a press conference in Rio Janeiro, Brazil, on July 31, 2016 © AFP/File / Roberto Schmidt

“WADA’s executive committee… supported Professor McLaren’s independent mandate, which was to obtain evidence as quickly as possible in the interest of clean athletes,” Reedie said in a statement.

“While it is destabilising in the lead-up to the Games, it is obvious, given the seriousness of the revelations that he uncovered, that they had to be published and acted upon without delay.”

Three banned swimmers and a wrestler have also made appeals to CAS, while Russia’s rowing federation is also preparing to appeal bans against 17 of its athletes, according to Russia’s R-Sport news agency.

At least 117 of the 387 competitors Russia had wanted to send to Rio have been excluded.

– Gisele ‘mugging’ –

The Russian scandal is just the latest distraction for Games organisers, after serious political and economic problems in Brazil and concerns over security and the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Gisele Bundchen, who left modelling on April 2015 and wass once the world’s best paid model, will be one of the highlights of the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 5 August © AFP/File / Nelson Almeida

Highlighting Rio’s unwanted reputation for street violence, media reports said Friday’s opening ceremony would feature a scene where supermodel Gisele Bundchen suffers an attempted mugging by a young thief.

But one of the show’s masterminds, “City of God” movie director Fernando Meirelles, angrily denied the report.

“Folha de SP says Gisele is assaulted during the opening ceremony at the Olympics. Where does Folha get this dumb idea from? They messed up badly,” he tweeted.

Details are top secret ahead of Friday’s ceremony. However, there have been widespread leaks following a dress rehearsal at Rio’s Maracana stadium late Sunday.

Separately, a private security guard at Rio’s Olympic Park was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a female firefighter while she slept.

Arriving competitors have also complained about conditions at the athletes’ village, where Australia’s team reported water leaks, blocked toilets and exposed wiring, and had to evacuate when a small fire broke out on Friday.

Britain’s team have responded by bringing their own plumber — and also urged their athletes to keep their valuables under lock and key, after thieves raided Australia’s quarters during the fire evacuation.

“We’ve got our own plumber that comes in on a daily basis — he’s not at all overworked, but he’s there just in case something gets stuck,” said chef de mission Mark England.

A key ramp used by competitors at the Olympic sailing base of Marina da Gloria meanwhile was undergoing repair after suffering serious damage from rough seas over the weekend.

For sailors, however, the biggest problem in Rio is heavily polluted water. The authorities’ promise to radically improve water quality in Guanabara Bay was abandoned.

“Pollution is a big problem. You can find everything in the bay and it could have an impact on the results, slowing us down. It could be dangerous,” Spain’s Santiago Nacra Lopez said.

The Games, with an estimated 10,500 athletes, start Friday and finish August 21.