LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Some Russian track and field athletes could be competing under their own flag at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics after all.
Leaders of the International Olympic Committee and track’s world governing body appeared split Tuesday over the terms of participation of any Russian athletes cleared to compete at the Aug. 5-21 games.
While upholding last week’s IAAF decision to ban Russia’s track team for systematic doping, Olympic leaders did not accept the federation’s position on a key issue: that a neutral flag would represent the few athletes given dispensation to apply to compete if they live outside Russia and have undergone rigorous testing.
IOC President Thomas Bach said if any Russians are deemed eligible by the IAAF, they would compete under the Russian flag.
“If there are athletes qualified, then they will compete as members of the team of the Russian Olympic Committee because only a national Olympic committee can enter athletes to the Olympic Games,” Bach said. “There are no teams of international federations there. And the Russian Olympic Committee is not suspended.”
The IAAF appeared caught off guard by Bach’s comments, insisting its position had been accepted by Olympic leaders and saying it will work with the IOC to make sure it is “respected and implemented in full.”
The sharp differences between the IOC and the IAAF emerged after a summit of Olympic leaders called by Bach to follow up on the IAAF’s decision to ban Russia and to take further steps to ensure a “level playing field” for athletes in all sports at the Rio Games.
The leaders called for drug testing of individual Russian and Kenyan athletes across all sports, warning that evidence of inadequate doping controls in those countries could lead to more teams being barred from the Rio de Janeiro Games.
The leaders also called on authorities to pursue sanctions not only against athletes, but against doctors, coaches, officials and other personnel implicated in doping. Bach also lamented “deficiencies” in global drug-testing and urged the World Anti-Doping Agency to hold a special conference next year to address the problems.
“It has to be more transparent,” Bach said. “Everybody has to understand better who is doing what and who is responsible for what and this needs a full review.”
The meeting came four days after the IAAF upheld its ban — first imposed in November — on Russian athletes for a “systematic and deeply-rooted culture of doping.”
The IOC executive board said Saturday it supported and respected the IAAF ruling. On Tuesday, the Olympic leaders agreed “to fully respect” the decision, which Russian officials condemned as unfair to “innocent athletes.” The Russians confirmed they will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“We consider it unfair on the vast majority of our athletes who have never doped and have not violated any criteria,” Russian Olympic Committee chief Alexander Zhukov told the meeting. “They will be punished for the sins of others.”
Zhukov said in comments carried by the Tass news agency that Russia “will not boycott the Olympics, although its national Olympic committee will consider suing the IAAF.
The IAAF last week opened the door to a small group of Russian athletes who live and undergo reliable drug-testing outside the country to apply to compete as “neutral” athletes in Rio — not under the Russian flag. The IAAF said only a handful of athletes fell into that category.
But Bach ruled out the neutral flag, saying it was not for the IAAF to decide.
“We have discussed this decision with the IAAF,” he said. “This decision applies to IAAF competitions (not the Olympics).
“The Russian national federation is suspended. Therefore, the IAAF has chosen this option in order to allow competing in their competition. When it comes to Olympic Games, all athletes then are part of the team of the Russian Olympic Committee,” he said when asked by reporters for clarification.
The IAAF responded that its ruling on the flag was approved and did apply to the Olympics.
The federation said it passed a rule change “to allow Russian athletes to apply for eligibility, on an exceptional basis and subject to meeting strict criteria in international competitions, including the Olympic Games, in an individual capacity as neutral athletes, not under any country’s flag.”
“This decision has been unequivocally supported across sport and the IOC summit today unanimously agreed to fully respect the IAAF decision,” the track federation said. “The IAAF will now work with the IOC to ensure the decision is respected and implemented in full.”
In the end, the final word on the participation of Russians could come from CAS, the highest court in sports.
“This is the good right of everybody,” Bach said. “So we are expecting the results of these potential court cases.”
In a strongly worded speech to the meeting, Zhukov said Russians were turning to CAS to protect athletes with no doping record.
“Banning clean athletes from the Rio Olympic Games contradicts the values of the Olympic movement and violates the principles of the Olympic Charter,” he said. “It is also legally indefensible and devalues their competitors’ success.”
“We hope that CAS will make an objective, fair and lawful decision, in spite of the already publicly announced position of its president,” he added.
That was a shot at CAS President John Coates, who is also an IOC vice president and has spoken in favor of the IAAF ruling.
Still looming over the Russians is a WADA investigation into allegations made by Moscow’s former drug lab chief, Grigory Rodchenkov, that he was involved in a state-backed conspiracy to dope Russian athletes ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and swap tainted samples for clean ones during the games.
WADA’s final report is due by July 15. If it uncovers further widespread, state-backed cheating in Russia, it could push for further action against Russia.
The summit expanded the scope of the doping investigations to deal with all sports in Russia and Kenya, two countries deemed noncompliant with WADA’s rules. The summit, which also cited “substantial allegations” against those countries, put the onus on each international sports federation to make sure their athletes are clean ahead of the Rio Games.
Kenya — home to many of the world’s top distance runners — has been hit by dozens of positive drug cases in recent years and has struggled to set up a credible anti-doping system. IAAF officials, however, have said Kenya should not be in danger of missing the games, because its athletes have been subjected to extensive international testing.