Athletics: Russia defiant in face of possible Olympic suspension

Russian sports Minister Vitaly Mutko slammed the suspension.
Russian sports Minister Vitaly Mutko slammed the suspension.EPA

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia's brightest track and field stars were defiant after their country's athletics federation was provisionally suspended from international competition over state-sponsored doping allegations, insisting Saturday that no ban could hinder their Olympic ambitions.

Pole vaulting star Yelena Isinbayeva, who had called on the IAAF not to punish honest competitors for their peers' doping practices, said she was "shocked" by the suspension.

Other athletes simply shrugged off the decision, saying they were convinced authorities would resolve the situation quickly.

"This decision does not affect our preparation," said 400m runner Radel Kashefrazov. "It's not like we are going to stay home and do nothing.

"Athletes aren't especially worried," he said. "We are hoping this will be resolved fast."

Although the suspension is provisional, without a time limit and with immediate effect, eight months ahead of the 2016 Olympics questions remain whether a Russian team will be on the road to Rio.

The length of Russia's exile depends on the country implementing adequate anti-doping measures, and can only be lifted by a new vote of the IAAF council whose next meeting is scheduled for Monaco on Nov 26-27.

That would be "much too early to discuss an eventual lifting of the suspension," an IAAF spokesman told AFP.

The council may also decide to organise an emergency meeting as they did Friday using videoconference technology which would not require elected members to be present and would save time.

In the worst case scenario, the Russian athletics federation (ARAF) has four months to propose solutions before going before the council again.

"Everyone within the IAAF will work tirelessly with authorities in Russia on the reinstatement of ARAF as soon as possible as this is the best outcome for the athletes," the IAAF spokesman added.

"This is the first and only priority right now for the IAAF and for Russia."

Russian sports Minister Vitaly Mutko slammed the suspension which followed the publication of a damning report by an independent commission set up by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) on mass doping in Russian athletics.

"I can agree with everything but the suspension of athletes, it is an extreme measure and senseless," Mutko told the R-Sport news agency.

"This shows that people who raise their hands to vote for such decisions have never been athletes or they have forgotten what it is like to be one. It is a shameful decision."

Mutko however said that steps would be taken to ensure that Russian athletes would compete in Rio.

"I will encourage the Russian Olympic Committee to address the problem so that our athletes be admitted," he added.

Russian athletes are banking on the provisional suspension being lifted before the Games next August, a possibility former Wada chief Dick Pound said was tied to Russia's ability to react promptly.

"All the problems we outlined need to be solved before the Olympics," Pound, who headed the Wada independent commission, said in an interview published Saturday in Russia's Sport-Express newspaper.

"But if you start procrastinating, then apparently the Olympics will go on without you (Russia)."

The Russia Olympic Committee (ROC) announced that it would lead efforts to revamp athletics in the country, vowing to punish all those involved in the scandal - be they athletes, trainers or state officials.

IOC president Thomas Bach said he was confident a solution could be found after a meeting with ROC president Alexander Zhukov.

"We are confident that the initiatives being proposed by the ROC, with the responsible international organisations, Wada and the IAAF, will ensure compliance as soon as possible in order to provide participation of the clean Russian athletes at the Olympic Games."

The head of the Russian athletics federation, Vadim Zelichenok, meanwhile, said the country had a "more than 50 per cent chance" of turning things around.

"We had all hoped for better," high jump world champion Maria Kuchina told AFP on Saturday, adding that she found the IAAF decision "harsh".

"But none of us will give up."

Russian athletics chiefs can use the precedent of rowing before the 2008 Beijing Olympics when Russia were suspended for a year for doping violations.

The sanctions were lifted after three months when measures were taken and a new national rowing federation elected.

The athletics suspension also strips Russia of the right to host the World Race Walking Cup and World Junior Championships, which had been scheduled to take place in the country ahead of Rio.