by Mark Trevelyan and Jack Stubbs
VIENNA/MOSCOW, June 17, 2016 (Reuters) – World athletics’ governing body on Friday upheld its ban on Russia for systematic doping, leaving the country’s hopes of competing in the Rio Games dependent on Olympic chiefs giving it special dispensation at a meeting next week.
Russia, an athletics superpower, had lobbied furiously to avert the prospect of a Summer Olympics taking place without its track and field athletes.
President Vladimir Putin denied on Friday that Russian authorities had ever colluded in doping, and urged authorities not to use sport to push an anti-Russian agenda. His spokesman vowed legal steps to defend Russian athletes against a ban.
Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said that innocent people were being punished and that he hoped the International Olympic Committee could “somehow correct this”, the Russian R-Sport news agency quoted him as saying.
Russia was suspended from all track and field by the IAAF in November after an independent report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) revealed widespread state-sponsored doping.
A task force has been studying Russian measures to reform its anti-doping programme. But on Wednesday, a new WADA report revealed 52 new failed tests and stories of extraordinary attempts to avoid, obstruct or intimidate drug testers.
“Some progress has been made, but not enough,” IAAF President Sebastian Coe told reporters.
The vote by the IAAF should in theory be decisive, but the IOC, concerned about innocent athletes being punished, has not ruled out granting Russia, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a special dispensation when it meets next Tuesday.
The IOC Olympic Summit in Lausanne, which will also discuss reports that Russia put in a place a complex system to beat anti-doping measures in Sochi, could be a defining moment in the fight against drug abuse in sport.
“My gut feeling is that some of the folks in the IOC bubble have no sense of the collective outrage if it makes the wrong decision,” Dick Pound, a long-standing IOC member and co-author of the report that led to Russia’s ban, told Reuters.
In an open letter to Coe, Mutko said Russia had met all the conditions asked of it, including overhauling its athletics association and introducing additional testing.
“Clean athletes who have dedicated years of their lives to training and who never sought to gain unfair advantage through doping should not be punished for the past actions of other individuals,” Mutko wrote.
His ministry said after the decision that the Olympics would be diminished by the absence of Russian athletes.
At a forum in St Petersburg, Putin said that “there has not been and cannot be any support at state level for violations in sport, including the use of doping”, and that there should be no collective punishment for Russian athletes.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov went further, saying that “everything possible needed to defend the rights of our athletes and the Olympic team is being done and will be done at a legal level”.
Isinbayeva, one of Russia’s most successful sportswomen, called the IAAF decision a violation of human rights.
“I will go to the human rights court,” she said. “I will prove to the IAAF and World Anti-Doping Agency that they made the wrong decision … Russia will not be silent.”
International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates said on Friday that Russia’s anti-doping agency and athletics body were “rotten to the core”.
But Coates, president of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, also said there would be “appeal opportunities … for someone who can establish their individual integrity”.
“My guess is they’d have to establish they were regularly tested outside of Russia by an anti-doping authority, and the samples were analysed outside of Russia on a regular basis,” he said.
Russia says it is being unfairly victimised, while other countries that have fallen foul of the WADA code are free to compete.
But British world marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe told Reuters on Thursday: “No one wants to see even one innocent athlete suffer in this, but such blatant disregard for the rules of our sport and the concept of fair play should receive a strong message that it will not be tolerated …
“The message needs to get out loud and clear – We will not tolerate cheats in our sport and will take strong action to protect the rights of the clean athletes to compete on a fair and level playing field.”
(Additonal reporting by Gene Cherry and Jack Stubbs, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Hugh Lawson)
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