Athletics: Coe not expecting many Russians to compete in Rio as neutrals

IAAF president Sebastian Coe addressing a news conference in Vienna, Austria, on June 17, 2016.
IAAF president Sebastian Coe addressing a news conference in Vienna, Austria, on June 17, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

VIENNA (AFP) - IAAF president Sebastian Coe does not believe there are many Russian athletes who will benefit from a loophole to compete in the Rio Olympics.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) played hardball with Russia on Friday, extending a ban first imposed in November over state-sponsored doping and mass corruption in Russian athletics.

But the door was left slightly ajar for Russian athletes training outside the country to apply to compete as neutrals at the August 5-21 Olympics in Brazil.

The number of Russian track and field stars likely to meet the strict criteria required by the IAAF seems incredibly small.

"You shouldn't run away with the idea that this is a large number," Coe said in the wake of the IAAF Council's unanimous decision to extend the ban on Russia.

"We have a doping review board and it will be them that will, on a one-by-one basis, make that judgment as to whether they meet the eligibility requirements and they are in systems that are safe and secure and we can guarantee them.

"Some of those athletes may well be Russian athletes living outside of Russia for an appropriate period of time in safe secure effective systems but there may be others who are not.

"They need to apply and we will look at them by a one-by-one basis."

Rune Andersen, the Norwegian at the head of the IAAF task force charged with investigating doping in Russian athletics, added: "If there are any athletes out there who comply with this tiny chance of competing under a neutral flag, they can do it immediately.

"They have to apply for an exception so that they bring forward issues in the rule: that they have undergone doping control, that they've been subject to a credible system for anti-doping control for an appropriate period of time and then the committee within the IAAF will decide whether that is sufficient.

"That rule ensures that there is an opening for those who can really demonstrate this." Russian President Vladimir Putin was scathing of the IAAF decision, calling the blanket ban "unfair".

"Responsibility must always be individual and those who have no connection with these violations should not suffer," said the leader, who, even before the announcement of the decision, had denied all allegations of "organised stage doping" by Russia.

"We ourselves are outraged when we're faced with doping problems, and we work to ensure that those guilty are punished. But the clean athletes, as they say, why should they suffer? I really don't understand."

But Andersen countered: "The statement that there must be clean athletes in Russia, we don't disagree with.

"There might be clean athletes in Russia, but they've been under a system which is not clean and which we can't be sure it hasn't undertaken sufficient anti-doping work so that they sufficiently can be said to be clean.

"We have no confidence in the Russian system. How can one say an athlete is clean? A hundred or 200 negative tests doesn't mean you're clean.

"If you're subject to another system that is comprehensive and recognised as a strong anti-doping system, you say 'ok, you've undergone a number of tests, you're under this system, we believe in this system, it's code compliant, everything is in place: a national anti-doping agency and strict control', then we believe you might be clean."

Coe insisted that it was the IAAF and not the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that had jurisdiction over eligibility, while acknowledging that some athletes such as star pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva will appeal against the ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"The IAAF is responsible for eligibility criteria for international competition and it resides with the IAAF," the Briton said.

"I'll be at the Olympic summit in Lausanne on Tuesday. We have a very close working relationship with the IOC. It's hardly a surprise as we're the biggest Olympic federation, a fifth of all the competitors at an Olympics are athletes.

"The athletes have recourse to appeal in the CAS, but that's for them. Our judgment was made on the basis it was the best interest of athletics."