D-Day for athletics as the IAAF has to decide whether to ban Russia

• President Sebastian Coe coming under increasing pressure to make a stand
• A majority of 26 IAAF members must vote to provisionally suspend Russia

The International Association of Athletics Federations will meet on Friday to consider a provisional ban for Russia, which said on Thursday it was ready to own up to some of the charges in a damning World Anti-Doping Agency report.

The new IAAF president Sebastian Coe, who was vice president under his now arrested predecessor Lamine Diack for eight years, will discuss with his fellow council members whether Russia should be provisionally suspended while the case against it is considered. Under the IAAF constitution, a majority of the 26 members must vote to provisionally ban Russia while the full case is heard – a process that could take around a month. Russia was due to provide its response to the devastating report into systemic state-sponsored doping in Dick Pound’s 325-page report by 5pm on Thursday but said it would not provide details to the press.

Lord Coe, under scrutiny over his links to Diack and his refusal to give up his links with Nike, is under pressure to take decisive action and it is believed that several council members are in favour of suspension. However, the vote is unlikely to be unanimous.

“We admit some things, we argue with some things, some are already fixed, it’s a variety,” said Vadim Zelichenok, the acting president of the Russian track federation. “It’s not for the press.”

Outlining the Russian response, its IAAF council member Mikhail Butov is likely to point to measures that have already been taken and argue that an outright ban is unnecessary. But other council members argue that the sport will lose even more credibility if Russia is not provisionally suspended.

If the case against Russia is ultimately proved, it is likely to be suspended from the sport indefinitely until it meets a number of criteria and becomes compliant with the Wada code.

Yet the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has already indicated that it should be able to comply with the requirements and still return in time for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Sebastian Coe
Sebastian Coe will chair a meeting of the IAAF council on Friday to discuss sanctions against Russia. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

Sergey Bubka, the Ukrainian former pole vaulter who narrowly lost to Coe in August’s presidential election, also hinted that Russia should be able to return before the Games and said innocent athletes should not be punished.

“We have to take tough decisions, no doubt. We’ll see what happens. It might be a provisional suspension,” said Bubka. “We will push the federation very strongly to act. If they go the right way, maybe they will be able to come back before Rio.”

Amid allegations of conflict of interest, the IAAF on Thursday confirmed that its lucrative sponsorship with Russia’s VTB bank, agreed before the 2013 world athletics championships in Moscow, will expire at the end of the year and will not be renewed.

Even if Russia’s track and field team is banned, their sports minister Vitaly Mutko told the Associated Press that the country has no intention of boycotting the Olympics. “Russia is against a boycott. Russia is against political interference in sport,” Mutko said. “Understand that Russia is a dependable partner of the international Olympic movement.”

Mutko also appealed for Russia’s team to be allowed to compete, arguing that a blanket ban would unfairly punish clean athletes. “It will be painful for those athletes with clean consciences who could compete, that’s the first thing. And the second thing is that it goes against the spirit of the Wada code,” Mutko said. “The commission itself writes about it in its report. It’s about protecting the athletes with clean consciences.”

On Wednesday night, the Russian president Vladimir Putin insisted clean athletes should be allowed to compete and asked Russian sports officials to carry out an internal investigation into the allegations made in the doping report. “Practically every day, at the end of the day, we release some kind of information message about the steps we’re taking and we will continue to do that,” said Mutko. “We’re prepared to inform international society about the steps we’re taking, the investigation, the decisions.”

Pound’s report, commissioned in the wake of a devastating documentary by the German journalist Hajo Seppelt for ARD in December last year, outlined systemic cheating on a grand scale including a second “shadow lab” that was used to screen samples, anti-doping labs infiltrated by secret service agents and positive tests covered up for cash. It found that the head of the Moscow lab, Grigory Rodchenko, admitted to intentionally destroying 1,417 samples in December 2014 shortly before Wada officials were due to visit.

The report also found the London 2012 Olympics were “sabotaged” by the “widespread inaction” against Russian athletes with suspicious doping profiles by the world athletics governing body and the Russian federation.

The secrets of doping: how Russia makes its winners - video

Diack, the IAAF legal adviser Habib Cissé and Gabriel Dollé, the former longstanding head of the IAAF’s anti-doping unit, have all been arrested by French police amid allegations that positive tests were covered up. French prosecutors said they would also have arrested Diack’s son and former IAAF marketing consultant, Papa Massata Diack, if he had been in France at the time.

Diack, the IAAF president for 16 years, is accused by French police of accepting more than €1m in exchange for covering up positive drug tests. In a move that will be seen as part of a Russian attempt to limit the damage, its National Olympic Committee asked former Russian track federation president Valentin Balakhnichev to resign from its executive board.

The Wada commission’s report said Balakhnichev, also the former IAAF treasurer, was “ultimately responsible” for doping and cover-ups at the federation during his tenure and linked him to money being extorted from athletes.

While accepting some elements of it, the Russian government has consistently criticised the report for lack of evidence. Mutko said there was an overreliance on confidential sources and condemned the inclusion of material from undercover recordings made by whistleblowers, which he said violated the rights of those accused of doping.

The Russian foreign ministry also took a less than conciliatory tone, claiming that the report was biased and had an agenda.

“The position of the special commission on doping with regards to Russian athletes looks extremely biased, politicised,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in her weekly briefing, adding that sources cited in the report seem “extremely doubtful.”


Owen Gibson

The GuardianTramp

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