By Mark Trevelyan & Jack Stubbs
VIENNA/MOSCOW – Russian athletes’ hopes of competing in the Rio Olympics are now at the mercy of the IOC after world athletics’ governing body unanimously upheld its ban on the country for systematic doping on Friday, saying not enough progress had been made in reform.
Russia, a superpower of track and field, had lobbied furiously to avert the prospect of a Summer Olympics athletics program taking place without its athletes, and argued that it was taking all the steps required of it to dispel charges of state-sponsored drug abuse.
President Vladimir Putin denied on Friday that Russian authorities had ever colluded in doping, and urged authorities not to use sport to push an anti-Russian agenda. His spokesman vowed legal steps to defend Russian athletes against a ban.
But after a meeting of the Council of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in Vienna, its president Sebastian Coe told reporters: “Some progress has been made, but not enough… The decision was unanimous – politics did not play a part in that room today.”
Rune Andersen, who heads the IAAF task force overseeing Russia’s attempts to reform, said that a “deep-seated culture of tolerance, or worse, appears not to be materially changed”.
“No athlete will compete in Rio under a Russian flag,” he said.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), concerned about innocent athletes being punished, has not ruled out granting Russian athletes a special dispensation.
But Coe said the question of athletes’ eligibility to compete at the Olympics was “entirely a matter for the IAAF”.
He did, however, suggest that a way would be found for some Russian athletes to go to Rio as neutral competitors if they had undergone proper drug testing in other countries.
Appeal to IOC
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said innocent athletes were being punished and that he hoped the IOC could “somehow correct this.”
Mikhail Butov, general secretary of Russia’s Athletics Federation (ARAF) and an IAAF Council member – though not allowed to vote on Friday – said ARAF was considering appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Russia was suspended from track and field by the IAAF in November after an independent report from WADA revealed widespread state-sponsored doping.
On Wednesday, a new WADA report revealed 52 failed tests since then, and stories of extraordinary attempts to avoid, obstruct or intimidate drug testers.
An IOC Olympic Summit in Lausanne next Tuesday is due to discuss the issue, along with reports that Russia put in a place a complex system to beat anti-doping measures at the Winter Olympics that it hosted in Sochi two years ago.
The IOC “took note” of the IAAF decision and announced a telephone meeting of its executive board on Saturday to discuss the next steps.
Its decision could be a defining moment in the fight against drug abuse in sport.
“My gut feeling is that some of the folks in the IOC bubble have no sense of the collective outrage if it makes the wrong decision,” Dick Pound, a long-standing IOC member and co-author of the report that led to Russia’s ban, told Reuters.
In an open letter to Coe, Mutko said Russia had overhauled its athletics association and implemented additional testing.
“Clean athletes who have dedicated years of their lives to training and who never sought to gain unfair advantage through doping should not be punished for the past actions of other individuals,” Mutko wrote.
At a forum in St Petersburg, Putin said that “there has not been and cannot be any support at state level for violations in sport, including the use of doping”, and that there should be no collective punishment for Russian athletes.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov went further, saying that “everything possible needed to defend the rights of our athletes and the Olympic team is being done and will be done at a legal level”.
Russia says it is being unfairly victimized, while other countries that have fallen foul of the WADA code are free to compete.
Olympic pole vault double gold medalist Yelena Isinbayeva, one of Russia’s most successful sportswomen, called the IAAF decision a violation of human rights.
“I will go to the human rights court,” she said. “I will prove to the IAAF and World Anti-Doping Agency that they made the wrong decision … Russia will not be silent.”
But Coe left a door open for some Russian athletes, saying it was possible that “athletes who are not tested under the Russian system but in systems that have effective anti-doping programs will have their individual cases assessed”.
IOC vice-president John Coates, who is president of CAS, had hinted at something similar in Melbourne earlier.
He said that, although Russia’s anti-doping agency and athletics body were “rotten to the core”, there would be “appeal opportunities … for someone who can establish their individual integrity”.