Russia will learn on Friday if its track and field athletes will be allowed to compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, as more damning evidence of doping irregularities pour in.
The latest World Anti-Doping Agency report on the obstruction of drug-testing in Russia came shortly before the sport’s governing body, the IAAF, meets in Vienna to decide whether to admit Russia’s athletes to the Olympics.
Russia’s track and field athletes have been suspended from international competition since November, after a report by an independent WADA panel alleged a widespread, state-backed doping system.
Russia has insisted that it has abided by all international requests to clean up its program and that its athletes should be allowed to compete in Rio.
Even if the IAAF decides not to lift the ban completely, it could consider a compromise that allows individual Russian athletes to go to Rio if they have not been implicated in doping and have demonstrated they are clean.
The International Olympic Committee has scheduled a summit of sports leaders next Tuesday to consider “the difficult decision between collective responsibility and individual justice.”
If Russia’s athletes are banned from Rio, it would be the first time such a large number of athletes from one country are prevented from competing at the Olympics because of doping. Russia would normally enter a team of around 200 track athletes for the games.
Bulgarian weightlifters have already been banned from Rio by the international federation because of doping, but their number is small compared to the Russian track team.
Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva is among the Russian athletes hoping to compete in Rio. She has threatened to go to court on human rights grounds if excluded from the games. Other cases could end up in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“The fraud of dishonest people should not jeopardize the careers of the other innocent fellow athletes and throw a stand on our country’s reputation,” a group of 13 Russian Olympic athletes said in an open letter to IOC President Thomas Bach.
Many athlete groups outside Russia have called on the IAAF to take a hard line, citing a loss of faith in the entire drug-testing system.
U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart has been among the most outspoken officials demanding the Russians be kept out.
“The games are at their best when there is universal inclusion, but that inclusion can’t come at the expense of clean athletes,” Tygart said. “It’s why we have stood with a broad coalition of those who value clean sport in the position that Russian track and field should not be allowed to participate in the games.”
Former WADA president Dick Pound, whose report led to Russia’s suspension, said he saw little reason for the ban to be lifted.
“I don’t think it’s an easy case to make that all should be forgiven,” he told The Associated Press. “A lot of credibility is at stake for the Russians, the IAAF and the IOC. If you’re convinced it’s a state administered system, your athletes have to pay the price for that. There is no reason athletes around the world should be put at risk. If it’s tough love, it’s tough love.”
The IAAF council, chaired by IAAF President Sebastian Coe, will make its decision after receiving a recommendation from a five-person task force, headed by Norway’s Rune Andersen, that has been monitoring Russia’s reform efforts.
“My guess is that Seb and Thomas (Bach) are under considerable pressure to find some kind of formula that lets Russia in, and that opinion among various constituents is very much divided,” Pound said.
A suspension would be a huge blow to Russia’s reputation and aspiration of maintaining its status as a world power in Olympic sports, and would tarnish its image even more as it prepares to host the next soccer World Cup in 2018.
The latest WADA report, issued Wednesday, alleged that Russian athletes and government agencies continued to obstruct and deceive drug testers. It said testers were intimidated by officials from Russia’s FSB security service and that packages containing samples have been tampered with by Russian customs services.
The original WADA report in November came after a documentary by Germany’s ARD broadcaster in December 2014 first spoke of a state-run doping system, based on revelations by Yulia Stepanova, a middle-distance runner who herself was banned for doping in 2013, and her husband Vitaly, a former official in the Russian anti-doping agency.
The IAAF will also rule Friday on a request by Stepanova to be allowed to compete in Rio, though not for Russia.
In May, Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow drug-testing lab now living in Los Angeles, revealed details of Russian doping in an interview with the New York Times. Rodchenkov said he personally switched tainted urine samples for clean ones at the doping lab used for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, with help from people he believed to be officers of the Russian security services.
Russia has dismissed Rodchenkov’s account, with the sports ministry saying that Rodchenkov was fired from the anti-doping lab in Moscow when authorities found out that he “was cheating the anti-doping community.”
Meanwhile, the IOC has reported 55 positive findings in retesting of stored samples from the 2008 Beijing Games and 2012 London Olympics. The Russian Olympic Committee has said 22 of the cases involved Russian athletes, including medalists.
AP Sports Writers Stephen Wilson in London and AP National Writer Eddie Pells in Denver contributed to this report.
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