Athletics Doping Body Says Ban Russia by EurasiaNet

A EurasiaNet Partner Post from: RFE/RL

An international anti-doping commission has recommended the Russian Athletics Federation be suspended from athletics competitions over widespread doping offenses.

The commission, set up by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), said November 9 that Russia had engaged in “state-supported” doping over many years. The commission noted that Russia should become compliant with anti-doping standards before it be allowed to compete again in athletics, which includes track and field, road-running, and race-walking events.

“All of this could not have continued to happen without the knowledge of and either applied or stated consent of the authorities,” commission Chairman Dick Pound told a press conference in Geneva.

Pound, a former WADA president, said the independent commission’s recommendations to the sporting world’s anti-doping watchdog would be noticed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and could lead to Russian track and field athletes being banned from the summer games in Rio next year.

But he said that if Russia voluntarily carries out reforms, it should be allowed to rejoin world athletics as soon as the compliance is verified. He added that for Russia to correct its doping problem would take “several months of work, easily.”

Vadim Zelichenok, the acting head of Russia’s Athletics Federation, told media immediately after Pound spoke that neither WADA nor the IOC had the right to suspend Russia from world athletics.

“It is only a recommendation,” Zelichenok told Reuters. He said that only the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) — the global ruling body for track and field — could make a decision about suspending Russia.

However, IAAF President Sebastian Coe told media in London he will seek approval from his fellow IAAF council members on whether the Russian Athletics Federation should be banned once WADA recommended doing so.

Coe said that IAAF could levy sanctions upon Russia including “provisional and full suspension.”

Pound said that his independent commission also would recommend to WADA that the doping watchdog withdraw its accreditation for the Moscow laboratory it relies upon to conduct tests in Russia.

He said the commission had found the Moscow laboratory destroyed 1,400 doping tests in December 2014 ahead of a visit by a WADA delegation.

Terming the widespread doping offences in Russian sports “worse than we thought,” Pound said that it was particularly serious because “unlike other forms of corruption, it affected results on the playing field.”

The commission’s investigation was prompted by allegations raised in a documentary about doping in Russia aired by the German television network ARD in December.

The documentary, entitled Top Secret Doping: How Russia Makes Its Winners, claimed Russian track and field was plagued by doping and that the IAAF had failed to investigate hundreds of dubious blood tests between 2001 and 2012.

Pound said that “overwhelming portions of the allegations [of doping in Russian athletics] made on the ARD program have been found by the independent commission to be true.”

The independent commission’s report reveals that “Russian athletes were often willing participants.”

However, the report said “there are documented cases where athletes who did not want to participate in ‘the program’ were informed they would not be considered as part of the federation’s national team for competition.”

The report also identified “corruption and bribery practices at the highest levels of international athletics, evidence of which has been transmitted to Interpol for appropriate investigation.”

It said publication of that information will be delayed until “decisions are taken by the competent authorities regarding potential criminal prosecutions.”

A French investigative news organization, which claims to have received advance leaks from the full commission report, says it reveals that sports officials tried to extort money from athletes in exchange for concealing that they had failed drug tests.

The Mediapart news organization says the report singles out the former head of the Russia’s Athletics Federation, Valentin Balakhnichev.

According to Mediapart, the report reveals Balakhnichev worked with top officials of the IAAF to try to blackmail athletes.

Balakhnichev, who resigned as head of the federation in February, rejected the allegations on November 7. “Let them present their claims to me, I will fight them,” he told Russian media.

The IAAF conducts widespread doping tests of track and field athletes and can ban them from events if they are found to be using performance-enhancing drugs.

Balakhnichev had also been treasurer of the IAAF until he stepped down from that position in December last year as the organization conducts its own investigation into the allegations raised in the German television documentary.

The WADA report comes just days after French authorities charged the former head of the IAAF, Lamine Diack, of taking more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) in bribes to cover up doping cases involving Russian athletes. Diack left office in August after 16 years as the IAAF’s leader.

Russia is the world leader in doping by athletes, with WADA statistics showing 225 violations across a variety of sports in 2013, 37 more than second-place Turkey.

Four Russian Olympic gold medalists have been banned for doping in the past 12 months. They are race walkers Sergei Kirdyapkin, Olga Kaniskina, and Valery Borchin, and 2012 steeplechase winner Yulia Zaripova.

Russia’s Athletics Federation and anti-doping agency have strong ties to the Russian government through the powerful Sports Ministry, which oversees both organizations.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters.

Editor’s note: Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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