POSTED: June 17th 2016

NEIL WILSON: Athletes banned from competing under the Russian flag at Rio 2016

The IAAF Council © Getty Images
The IAAF Council © Getty Images

IAAF President Lord Sebastian Coe © Getty Images
IAAF President Lord Sebastian Coe © Getty Images

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

 (SFC) Athletes will not compete at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games under the Russian flag but the whistle-blower Yuliya Stepanova may be there as a neutral.

The council of the IAAF, track and field's international federation, decided yesterday to continue the global suspension of its Russian federation, so barring its athletes from all competitions.

But by passing a rule change they opened what doping task force chair Rune Andersen called a "very tiny crack in the door" for those, like Stepanova, who can prove that they are "clean" and outside the Russian system.

Stepanova, who served a doping ban in 2013, was responsible for the first breach in the wall of silence around systemic doping in Russia when she fled the country and talked to German TV company ARD.

Andersen's report on progress in changing the culture of doping in Russia persuade the IAAF to a unanimous decision to exclude their team from Rio but he recommended they should look "favourably" on her participation.

The unprecedent banning of a nation's athletes sent a chilling message to the Russians which will reverberate around the sporting world. Andersen went so far as to confess that it may be another two years before the country is compliant with WADA anti-doping rules. That puts its participation in next year's world athletics championships in London also in doubt.

The only hope for them now of competing in Rio in less than two months is for the IOC to take the extraordinary step of over-ruling the IAAF at a meeting with "stakeholders" it has called for next Tuesday.

That would damage the IOC and its president Thomas Bach's credibility just as today's decision has enhanced that of the IAAF and its president Sebastian Coe. But Coe does not expect that. "Eligibility of athletes is entirely a matter for an international federation," he said.

The danger for the IOC is that the Russian Olympic Committee will decide to withdraw its entire team in protest, as they did from the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984.

The effect of today's decision at a meeting in Vienna will not be large on the Games itself. Russia topped the medal table at the 2013 world championships but won only four last year in Beijing and only two of them gold, high hurdler Sergey Shubenkov and high jumper Maria Kuchina.

Since the Russians have been denied international competition throughout 2016, chances that they would do any better in Rio are not good. Few events will be seriously affected by their absence and it will be forgotten as quickly as it was after the 1984 Olympics when the entire Soviet Union team boycotted.

The Russian ministry of sport said it was "extremely disappointed". "Clean athletes' dreams are being destroyed," it said and said it would appeal to the IOC to re-consider, claiming the Games would be diminished without their athletes.

British runner Lynsey Sharp, a European champion at 800 metres, retorted in a tweet: "Your country has destroyed "clean athletes' dreams" for decades. Not a  nice feeling, is it?"

Andersen revealed that Russian minister Vitaly Mutko had admitted to him that  Russia "inherited a doping culture" from the Soviet days. "Quite clearly (it has been going on for decades)," said the Norwegian doping expert.

He also confirmed that it is continues there. Richard McLaren, who has been tasked by WADA to investigate claims in the New York Times that the Moscow laboratory cheated on Winter Olympic samples, has told Andersen that the report he publishes next month will confirm those claims. "He informed me that tests sent to the Russian laboratory were filleted," he said.

 The rule change to allow the odd Russian to compete as neutrals - the IAAF do not expect more than five to be eligible - was not just a thank you to Stepanova for her revelations but to safeguard the IAAF from legal challenges. Its lawyers warned it that a total ban might be seen as disproportionate if challenged.

 The IAAF acted boldly but in the only credible manner today. We must wait for only four more days to see if the IOC stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them in the fight against doping.

 ** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books. 

Keywords · Olympics · IAAF · Neil Wilson

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