Sunday, July 17, 2016

More Russian Athletes banned from Rio

Ever since that fateful day in 2014 when Russian runner Yuliya Stepanova and her husband, a former employee of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, blew the whistle on large-scale government- sponsored doping fraud in the sports system of her native Russia, the country’s other athletes and its associations and Olympic committee have been in constant hot water. With the August 2016 Rio Olympics so very close, it spells a lost opportunity for Russian sportsmen and women who are being threatened with competition bans by the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), like their track & fielders in June 17 and lately, their weightlifters yesterday June 22.

In a council meeting in Vienna last Friday, according to CNN, the IAAF cited accusations made that Russia remains lacking in its anti-doping efforts, and thus unanimously decided to extend the ban on all its track & field athletes, a ruling that has been backed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). A later Reuters report stated that as of yesterday Russian weightlifters have been added to the Rio Olympics ban by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), alongside lifters from former Soviet Union republics Belarus and Kazakhstan. These as of late are still subject to confirmation by the IOC.

On this regard, IOC president Thomas Bach proposed that any Russian athletes cleared of doping checks by the IAAF may be allowed to compete in Rio, not for Russia itself, but under the banner of only the Russian Olympic Committee. This was opposed by the IAAF, who stated instead that “clean” Russian competitors can only participate in the games as neutral and individual athletes, not for any country whatsoever. Yuliya Stepanova, who has since moved to Canada after being derided as a “Judas” by her government for her whistleblowing, has been hoping to qualify and compete even if only as a neutral.

Several Russian athletes have expressed their displeasure and opposition to the blanket bans, especially as they consider track & field and weightlifting as individual and not team sports, so barring all runners – even clean ones – just because some of them tested positive for performance drugs was considered unreasonable. This point of view is championed by Russian president Vladimir Putin, who has denounced the bans as placing collective responsibility on every due to the violations of individual persons. He also strongly denied any sponsoring of athlete doping by his government, in response to a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that their officials in Russia have been intimidated by Federal Security agents as they went about their work.

Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said to BBC that the “clean” athletes of his country will appeal the IAAF-IOC bans to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland, calling them “legally indefensible”. He also added that while they have not actually made plans to boycott the Rio Olympics altogether in protest, the government has not completely ruled it out.

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