Russian track and field athletes were banned from competing in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in a unanimous, unprecedented decision Friday by the International Association of Athletics Federations, which decried Russia’s failure to clean up corruption and deception in its anti-doping system.
Russia’s Ministry of Sport countered that it has taken the required steps to reform its procedures since a series of damning reports alleged state-sponsored doping rife with coverups and bribes. Russia appealed to the International Olympic Committee to allow athletes who have not tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs to compete in this summer’s Games.
“Clean athletes’ dreams are being destroyed because of the reprehensible behavior of other athletes and officials,” the ministry said in a statement. “They have sacrificed years of their lives striving to compete at the Olympics and now that sacrifice looks likely to be wasted. We have done everything possible since the ban was first imposed to regain the trust of the international community. … We have nothing to hide.”
British athlete Lynsey Sharp posted her response on Twitter: “And your country has destroyed clean athletes’ dreams for decades. Not a nice feeling, is it?”
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American runner Kara Goucher tweeted: “While I empathize with clean Russian athletes, we need real consequences to deter doping. Big day for clean athletes.”
Two-time Olympic champion pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva and other athletes said they are being unfairly punished and will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to show their rights are being violated.
The IAAF said Russian athletes who can prove they have not been tainted by systemic cheating can apply to compete as neutral athletes.
The “deep-seated culture of tolerance — or worse — for doping” and athletes’ and coaches’ willingness to “ignore doping rules” has not changed significantly since Russian track and field was first banned in November, said IAAF task force chair Rune Andersen.
Russia’s chance of reinstatement was dealt a blow Wednesday when the World Anti-Doping Agency released a harsh report saying Russia is still obstructing and evading drug testing months after an inspection team was sent in to monitor Russia’s practices and help its suspended labs return to compliance.
The United Kingdom Anti-Doping agency has only been able to conduct 455 tests in Russia since February while 736 tests were declined or canceled, according to WADA. There were 52 doping violations. Officials were prevented from testing athletes in restricted military cities. One athlete ran out of a stadium in the middle of a race to avoid tests. Another had a container inserted inside her “presumably containing clean urine” to fool testers. When it leaked, she is alleged to have tried to bribe the official before handing over a sample that tested positive. Armed federal security agents intimidated testers. Packages containing samples were tampered with by Russian customs agents.
The scandal began when husband and wife whistleblowers Vitaly and Yuliya Stepanov first revealed evidence of widespread doping in a documentary by German broadcaster ARD in December 2014.
Former Moscow lab director Grigory Rodchenkov told the New York Times he discarded positive samples of Russian athletes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games and devised a method for switching dirty samples for clean ones through a hidden hole in the wall of the lab. Rodchenkov is living in a secret location in the U.S. and working with a filmmaker on an expose. His colleague, former anti-doping agency chief Nikita Kamaev, died suddenly in February at age 52.
A 356-page investigative report from WADA in November, 2015 concluded that state-sponsored doping was occurring in Russia, on a scale surmounted only by East Germany’s system of the 1970s and 80s. WADA also found corruption within the IAAF under ex-president Lamine Diack, who accepted bribes from Russia to cover up tests. He is under arrest in France.
Current IAAF head Sebastian Coe was under pressure to uphold the ban through the Olympics. Corroborating evidence showed athletes used fake identities to conceal their whereabouts; state security agents posed as lab testers to sabotage results, and Rodchenkov supplied a cocktail of liquor laced with steroids to athletes so that traces of the drugs would be undetectable after a shorter period of time.
“Doping is not only a Russian problem, it’s a problem of the whole sports world,” Russian president Vladimir Putin said, asking why his country is being unfairly singled out. “And if someone tries to politicize something in this field I think this is a big mistake.”
The IAAF said athletes such as Yuliya Stepanova, an 800-meter runner who once tested positive and fled to the U.S. with her husband out of concern for their safety, would be allowed to compete in Rio because of their tell-all testimonies in the “fight against doping.” The IOC will debate Tuesday what to do about Russian athletes who claim they are clean, although the IAAF warned that a record of negative tests in Russia doesn’t necessarily prove an athlete is clean because of Russia’s unscrupulous anti-doping system.
Russia is second in the all-time Olympics medal table and was predicted to finish third in Rio behind the U.S. and China. About 100 Russian track and field athletes won 18 medals in London 2012 -- although two were stripped for doping.
Russia is in more hot water with new reports in The Times and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that Kamaev and Rodchenkov asked the Russian swimming federation for $45,000 a year to stop testing the country’s leading swimmers in the buildup to the 2012 Olympics. The federation declined.