Mon, Nov 16, 2015 - Page 19 News List

Athletes react with defiance, shock to IAAF suspension of Russian athletics

AFP, MOSCOW

Russia’s brightest track and field stars were defiant after their country’s athletics federation was provisionally suspended from international competition over state-sponsored doping allegations, on Saturday insisting that no ban could hinder their Olympic ambitions.

Pole vaulting star Yelena Isinbayeva, who had called on the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) not to punish honest competitors for their peers’ doping practices, said she was “shocked” by the suspension.

Other athletes simply shrugged off the decision, saying they were convinced authorities would resolve the situation quickly.

“This decision does not affect our preparation,” 400m runner Radel Kashefrazov said. “It’s not like we are going to stay home and do nothing.”

“Athletes aren’t especially worried,” he said. “We are hoping this will be resolved fast.”

Although the suspension is provisional, without a time limit and with immediate effect, eight months ahead of next year’s Olympics questions remain whether a Russian team will be on the road to Rio.

The length of Russia’s exile depends on the country implementing adequate anti-doping measures, and can only be lifted by a new vote of the IAAF council, whose next meeting is scheduled for Monaco on Thursday and Friday next week.

That would be “much too early to discuss an eventual lifting of the suspension,” an IAAF spokesman told reporters.

The council might also decide to organize an emergency meeting as they did on Friday using videoconference technology, which would not require elected members to be present and would save time.

In the worst case scenario, the All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF) has four months to propose solutions before going before the council again.

“Everyone within the IAAF will work tirelessly with authorities in Russia on the reinstatement of ARAF as soon as possible, as this is the best outcome for the athletes,” the IAAF spokesman added. “This is the first and only priority right now for the IAAF and for Russia.”

Russian Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko slammed the suspension, which followed the publication of a damning report by an independent commission set up by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on mass doping in Russian athletics.

“I can agree with everything, but the suspension of athletes, it is an extreme measure and senseless,” Mutko told the R-Sport news agency.

“This shows that people who raise their hands to vote for such decisions have never been athletes or they have forgotten what it is like to be one. It is a shameful decision,” he added.

However, Mutko said that steps would be taken to ensure that Russian athletes would compete in Rio.

“I will encourage the Russia Olympic Committee [ROC] to address the problem so that our athletes be admitted,” he added.

Russian athletes are banking on the provisional suspension being lifted before the Games in August next year, a possibility former WADA chief Dick Pound said was tied to Russia’s ability to react promptly.

“All the problems we outlined need to be solved before the Olympics, but if you start procrastinating, then apparently the Olympics will go on without you [Russia],” Pound, who headed the WADA independent commission, said in an interview published on Saturday in Russia’s Sport-Express newspaper.

The ROC announced that it would lead efforts to revamp athletics in the country, vowing to punish all those involved in the scandal — be they athletes, trainers or state officials.

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