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Athletics

Russia says to reform athletics in time for Rio Olympics (Updated)

Russia's national team athletes conduct training at their ground in Sochi, Russia

By Jack Stubbs

Russia‘s Olympic committee said on Saturday it would spearhead a clean-up programme in Russian athletics to ensure a doping scandal does not prevent honest sportsmen and women from competing for the country at the 2016 Olympics.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) voted overwhelmingly on Friday to suspend the Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF) for widespread and state-sponsored doping.

The allegations, made by a special commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), have caused Russia‘s biggest sporting scandal in several decades and could cost the country its place at next year’s Olympic Games in Rio.

“The Russian Olympic Committee is firmly convinced that honest athletes must participate in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” committee head Alexander Zhukov said in an online statement.

“At the same time, everyone who was involved in the use of illicit drugs and contributed to it, should take full responsibility.”

The Russian Sports Ministry said elections to replace the ARAF leadership would be held in the next three months.

Acting head Vadim Zelichenok was quick to announce he would not be standing, having earlier said he was prepared to step down to help Russian athletics recover from the doping scandal.

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) said it would work with the IAAF and WADA to address problems at the ARAF and Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) but did not give a timeframe for its reforms.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said he was sure clean Russian athletes would compete at the 2016 Games. “We are confident that the initiatives being proposed … will ensure compliance as soon as possible,” he said in a statement.

NATIONAL PRIDE

Russia is a superpower in world athletics and finished second behind the United States in the track and field medal count at the 2012 Olympics in London.

Russian pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who called on Friday for the IAAF not to punish honest athletes over the doping scandal, is the current world record holder as well as a two-time Olympic gold medallist and three-time World Champion.

Soviet gymnasts Larisa Latynina and Nikolai Andrianov hold second and third places respectively on the list of all-time Olympic medal winners.

President Vladimir Putin has used sporting successes to promote his image of Russia as a resurgent global power, portraying its hosting of the winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 as a symbol of a newly confident nation.

With national pride at stake, some Russian officials have looked to play down the IAAF suspension, suggesting it would be quickly resolved and hinting that Russia might appeal against the ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne.

“It is a predictable and understandable decision,” Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told R-Sport of the IAAF decision. “We need to understand what they want and where they see threats.

“We will develop a joint road map and try do it quickly. I think we can do all the work in two to three months.”

ARAF General Secretary Mikhail Butov told R-Sport: “If there is something that doesn’t satisfy us, then there is sense in talking about an appeal,” he added. “I am sure that Russia will go to the Olympic Games.”

Mutko and ARAF members will meet for emergency talks on Nov. 15, Tass news agency reported.

POLITICAL ATTACK

The IAAF council, hosted by its President Sebastian Coe, voted 22-1 in favour of suspendingRussia after a three-hour teleconference on Friday, an unprecedented punishment for doping offences.

In what some Russians see as a politically motivated attack, Moscow will now be barred from hosting the world race walking and world junior championships next year.

“Our athletes have become hostages to what is going in the world now and the global community’s attitude towards Russia,” said Moscow resident Alexander.

The WADA report alleged systemic collusion between Russian athletes and the country’s anti-doping authorities fostered a deeply-rooted culture of drug cheating. It recommended suspending Russia until a new framework was in place.

“We will get the change we want and only then will Russian athletes return to international competition,” Coe told reporters after Friday’s call.

The main athletics events in 2016 are the world Indoor Championships, the European athletics championships and the Olympics. The first competition to be affected by the ban will be the European cross-country championships in France in December.

Coe said it was “entirely up to the Russian federation” whether Russia would be able to make the required changes in time to return for the Olympics.

“But we discussed and agreed that the whole system has failed the athletes,” he said. “Not just in Russia, but around the world.”

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