No Rio for Russian athletes?

IAAF maintains doping ban though Kremlin, Isinbayeva threaten to take matter to court

VIENNA • The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) yesterday decided to maintain its doping ban on all Russian track and field athletes. That leaves the country's hopes of competing in August's Rio Games dependent on the International Olympic Council (IOC) giving special dispensation at a meeting next week.

Twice Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva reacted to the verdict by revealing that she intends to prove in court that the ban is a violation of human rights, Tass news agency reported.

Even before the vote, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had warned that Russia was ready to take legal steps to prevent its athletes being banned en masse.

The IAAF council met in Vienna to decide whether to lift the ban after hearing from a task force that significant doping problems still existed in Russia. The suspension was first imposed in November and extended in March.

IOC president Thomas Bach had earlier declined to speculate on how the IOC would vote, saying only that: "This meeting on the 21st will be to protect the clean athletes and ensure a level playing field for all the athletes participating in Rio."

Hours before the IAAF vote, Moscow had campaigned furiously to overturn the ban.

Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted there was no state-sponsored doping in Russia. "There isn't and cannot be any support on the government level of violations in sport, especially on the question of doping," he said at the annual economic forum in St Petersburg.

"There cannot be collective responsibility of all athletes," he added. "The whole team cannot bear responsibility for one who committed a violation" of anti-doping regulations.

He also said that doping should not be politicised or used to push an anti-Russian agenda.

Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko sent an open letter to the IAAF, claiming that Russia had met all the conditions asked of it, including overhauling its disgraced athletics association and introducing additional drug testing.

"Russia's athletes must not be singled out as the only ones to be punished for a problem that is widely acknowledged to go far beyond our country's borders," he argued.

Worse is to come for Russia with Fina, the world swimming body, also set to investigate claims made in a joint newspaper investigation by Britain's The Times and Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine that the two men at the centre of the Russian doping revelations in athletics - Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, and Nikita Kamaev, the late executive director of Rusada, the national anti-doping agency - were said to have offered to exempt the country's swimmers from drug testing in return for a fee.

Meanwhile, IAAF chief Sebastian Coe himself is in the dock over claims the two-time Olympic champion enlisted the help of the fugitive son of disgraced former IAAF president Lamine Diack for his successful election campaign last year.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'No Rio for Russian athletes?'. Print Edition | Subscribe