VIENNA (AP) — Russia’s track and field athletes will be banned from competing for their country at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics after a landmark decision Friday that punished the sports powerhouse for a systematic doping system that operated “from the top down” and tainted the entire team.
In an unprecedented 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 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,” IAAF President Sebastian Coe said.
Russia immediately condemned the decision, saying it was “deeply disappointed” and that the Rio Games will be “diminished” by the absence of its athletes. 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, track’s world governing body, left open a “tiny crack” that would allow any individual Russian athletes who have been untainted by doping and have been subjected to effective testing outside Russia to apply to compete in the games.
However, the IAAF said those athletes would be few and would be eligible to compete only as “individuals” — and not under the Russian flag.
“The crack in the door is quite narrow and there won’t be many who manage to get through that crack in the door,” said Rune Andersen, the Norwegian anti-doping expert who headed the IAAF task force that determined that Russia’s reforms were not enough.
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,” Andersen said. “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.”
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 don’t have a message for the IOC,” said Coe, who will attend Tuesday’s meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland. “Eligibility is a matter for the IAAF.”
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