IAAF to decide on ban for doping-tainted Russia

World athletics chiefs will meet Friday to decide whether to suspend Russia over accusations of “state-sponsored” doping, a move that could eventually lead to Russian athletes being excluded from the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Sebastian Coe, the recently-elected president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), will not be at the organisation’s headquarters in Monaco but will preside from London over a conference call of the body’s 27 elected members at around 1800GMT.

Russian Mikhail Butov, an IAAF council member and secretary general of the Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF) will “present the ARAF position” before being “excluded from the remainder of the debate and voting”, the IAAF said in a statement.

A simple majority is all that will be needed to confirm a suspension for Russia who were accused of widespread doping by an independent commission set up by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in a report which has shaken track and field, one of the Olympic Games’ flagship sports.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Moscow was ready to reform or “create a new anti-doping organisation” were the IAAF or WADA to demand it.

Mutko also broached the idea of appointing a “foreign specialist” as head of the doping laboratory, a move towards openness never before seen in Russian sport.

The 335-page WADA report blasted Russian officials for blackmailing athletes to cover up positive tests as well as destroying test samples.

Although Russian officials are expected to offer an olive branch by admitting to some cases of cheating, the IAAF is under huge pressure to take strong action just nine months out from the Rio Olympics.

“Europe will support Sebastian Coe. We have full confidence in him. We are all on the same page,” Svein Arne Hansen, the president of European Athletics, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph.

However, one leading IAAF council member, former Ukraine pole-vaulter Sergey Bubka, warned that it would be wrong to punish innocent athletes.

“All those involved, officials, managers or coaches, must pay the price,” said Bubka, whom Coe beat in an August vote to succeed disgraced Lamine Diack as IAAF president.

“But ordinary athletes, those who have nothing to do with this matter, should not have to miss a single competition.”

– ‘No Olympic boycott’ –

On Thursday, Russia sent a formal reply to the allegations. Acting president of Russia’s athletics federation Vadim Zelichenok said that it had produced the response “in such a way as to try to prove our innocence”.

In another development, Russia’s Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov flew into Lausanne in Switzerland Thursday evening for talks with International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach, R-Sport reported.

The fallout from the WADA report’s damning conclusions reached as far up as Russian President Vladimir Putin who ordered officials to launch their own internal investigation and cooperate with international anti-doping authorities.

“We must do everything in Russia to rid ourselves of this problem,” said Putin, an avid sportsman who led Russia’s bid to host last year’s Winter Olympics and the 2018 football World Cup.

However, he added: “This problem does not exist only in Russia, but if our foreign colleagues have questions, we must answer them.”

Should an Olympic athletics ban be eventually imposed, Sports Minister Mutko rejected the notion of a Russia boycott of Rio 2016.

In quotes published by The Guardian newspaper, Mutko said that even if Russia’s athletes are suspended, “we don’t plan to boycott anything, anywhere”.

– ‘Sports world suffered’ –

Russia’s veteran high jump coach Yevgeny Zagorulko warned that a ban would be a blow for the sport.

“I don’t believe that Russia’s athletics squad, or all the more, the whole country’s team will be banned,” Zagorulko told AFP.

Zagorulko, who coached Gennadi Avdeyenko, Yelena Yelesina, Andrei Silnov and Anna Chicherova to Olympic medals, believes the absence of Russian athletes would downgrade the level of the Games.

“Many athletes were deprived of a chance to compete at the Olympics in 1980 and 1984,” he said in reference to the Soviet-US tit-for-tat boycotts on political grounds.

“The reasons for their absence were different but the result was the same. The sports world suffered a serious loss.”

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 recovering from the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

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

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