Russia moves to avoid Olympic ban, Putin holds crisis talks

Russian athletics took steps Wednesday to avoid international isolation, declaring a foreign specialist could take over its discredited Moscow testing laboratory as Vladimir Putin held talks on the growing doping crisis.

With Friday’s IAAF-imposed deadline looming for Russia to supply answers to Monday’s bombshell World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report, the Russian President was meeting Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko in Sochi, the Black Sea home of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The stakes could not be higher for Russia which risks being excluded from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio over damning allegations of corruption and “state-sponsored” doping.

Putin, an avid sportsman, has made no public comment since the myriad of charges levelled by WADA’s Dick-Pound chaired independent commission rocked the Olympic’s flagship sport.

Joining Putin and Mutko in Sochi were various heads of Russian sports federations

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed WADA’s allegations would be on the menu at a meeting which ironically had been arranged to discuss the country’s preparations for Rio 2016.

Conflicting reaction to the report continued to emerge from the country in the eye of the doping storm.

The Kremlin on Tuesday had dismissed WADA’s allegations as “groundless” but 24 hours later a high-ranking sports official conceded that doping was an issue.

“We are conscious of the problem that we’ve got. We’ve got a problem with doping,” Mikhail Butov, the Russian athletics federation’s secretary general, admitted to the BBC.

– ‘Tarnish Russia’ –

Butov’s opinion carries weight, as he is one of the 27 council members of world athletics’ governing body that on Friday will discuss Russia’s fate vis-a-vis a potential ban from next year’s Olympics.

Russia, accused by WADA of “sabotaging” the last Olympic Games, finished fourth in the medals table at London 2012.

But ahead of his meeting in Sochi, Mutko suggested the doping furore could have been aimed at tarnishing the country’s image.

“This possibility exists because some benefit from removing a direct competitor, and others benefit from soiling the country’s image,” he told the R-Sport news agency.

The sporting superpower’s Olympic Committee issued a plea to world athletics chief Sebastian Coe and the IAAF not to sacrifice the dreams of clean competitors.

“The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) calls on the International Association of Athletics Federations to take into account the right of honest athletes to participate in international competition,” said the ROC in a statement.

“This right should not be restricted.”

Earlier, Mutko had raised the possibility of an overseas successor to Grigory Rodchenkov, the disgraced director of Moscow’s suspended anti-doping laboratory who according to WADA deliberately destroyed almost 1,500 samples.

“We are absolutely open and ready as a result of consultations with WADA to appoint even a foreign specialist to lead the laboratory if it is necessary,” Mutko told the R-Sport news agency.

As a result of the laboratory being stripped of its WADA-accreditation, swimming’s governing body FINA announced it had moved all the samples taken at this year’s world championships staged in Russia to a WADA-approved lab in Barcelona.

The crisis engulfing athletics comes hot on the heels of a massive corruption scandal at world football’s top body FIFA and as cycling is still reeling from the Lance Armstrong doping scandal

On Wednesday it also saw shamed former IAAF president Lamine Diack resign from his position on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), where he had served as an honorary member, the IOC said.

The 82-year-old Diack, who has been charged with corruption, “has resigned from his position as an honorary member of the IOC,” said IOC presidency spokesman Mark Adams a day after the IOC had suspended him.

– Fears growing –

Olympic chief Thomas Bach, gave his first reaction to WADA’s findings.

“What the report shows is sad and shocking,” said the IOC president, pointing to allegations that some officials demanded vast sums of money to hush up positive dope tests.

“I would never have imagined that in an international federation, money would be solicited from athletes to manipulate results.”

Fears were growing that the scandal could widen to include other countries and other sports, as WADA suggested in its report.

Andrey Baranov, a Russian sports agent who sparked the global investigation into athletics’ doping, called for the sport’s authorities to also look at other countries.

He told Wednesday’s edition of The Guardian newspaper: “It is wrong just to be focusing on Russia. There should be a similar investigation into countries like Kenya and Ethiopia too.

“Their top athletes are earning far more than the Russians. Yet their levels of testing are very limited.”

The German TV documentary that triggered the WADA investigation claimed that a third of the 146 world and Olympic medals awarded between 2001 and the 2012 London Olympics were tainted by suspicions of doping.

The IOC, however, said it did not believe there was any problem with drugs results from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, carried out at a WADA-accredited laboratory.

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