Russian track and field athletes banned from Rio Games

By NESHA STARCEVIC ,

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his meeting with heads of international news agencies at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his meeting with heads of international news agencies at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Photo: Dmitry Lovetsky)

In an unprecedented move, Russia's track and field athletes have been banned from competing for their country at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics because the country has failed to do enough to clean up a deep-rooted doping system that tainted athletes who may be clean.

The landmark decision Friday left a narrow possibility for some Russian athletes to compete individually if they had been living outside Russia and had undergone testing in a recognized foreign anti-doping system.

"But don't run away with the idea that it's a large number," IAAF president Sebastian Coe said after announcing the ruling loaded with geopolitical ramifications.

The IAAF upheld its ban on Russia's track and field federation, saying the country had made some progress in cleaning up since the suspension was imposed in November but failed to meet the requirements for reinstatement and would be barred from sending its athletes to the Rio Games that begin in 50 days.

"Russian athletes could not credibly return to international competition without undermining the confidence of their competitors and the public," Coe said.

President Vladimir Putin condemned the decision as "unfair," telling a meeting of leaders of major international news agencies in St. Petersburg that athletes who compete without doping "shouldn't suffer."

Russia does not accept "collective punishment" for all athletes, he said, comparing the ban for the entire team to a prison sentence that "an entire family" could get if one of its relatives has committed a crime.

"I hope we will find some solution here, but it does not mean that we will get offended and stop battling doping. On the contrary, we will intensify our fight on doping," Putin added.

The Russian track federation said it was considering an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport — the sports world's highest court.

The IAAF said it was necessary to ban the entire track and field team because there was no way to verify which athletes could be considered clean.

"The system in Russia has been tainted by doping from the top level down," said Rune Andersen, the Norwegian anti-doping expert who headed the IAAF task force which determined that Russia's reforms were not enough.

"We cannot trust that what people might call clean athletes are really clean. If you have one or two or five with negative tests, it does not mean the athletes are clean. History has shown that is not the case," Andersen said.

"There must be clean athletes in Russia but because they are under the system, we cannot be sure. We have no confidence in the system, that's the problem," Andersen said.

Coe dismissed suggestions there were any political motivations behind the decision.

"There were members from all four corners of the world, and the decision was unanimous," he said. "Politics did not play a part today."

The ruling came four days before a sports summit called by the IOC to address "the difficult decision between collective responsibility and individual justice."

The IOC said it had "taken note" of the IAAF ruling and that its executive board will meet by teleconference Saturday to "discuss the appropriate next steps."

There has been speculation the IOC could overrule the IAAF or impose a compromise that would allow "clean" Russian athletes to compete. However, Coe made clear that the IAAF runs the sport and determines which athletes are eligible, not the IOC.

"I am not making judgments but the IAAF is responsible for eligibility criteria," Coe said.

The suspension of the Russian federation, known as RusAF, was imposed in November following a report by a World Anti-Doping Agency commission that alleged state-sponsored cheating, corruption and cover-ups. On Wednesday, WADA issued a new report citing continuing obstruction and violations of drug-testing in Russia.

-AP

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