Russia doping ban lifted but war ban keeps athletes out

athletics23 March 2023 17:01| © AFP
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World Athletics on Thursday lifted the ban on the Russian track and field federation for state-sponsored doping although its athletes remain barred from competition while Moscow's invasion of Ukraine continues.

The Russian federation (RusAF) was banned in 2015 after a damning World Anti-Doping Agency report identified "a deeply-rooted culture of doping".

For the athletics superpower to return to the fold, it had to meet a series of strict conditions including establishing a culture of zero tolerance and an effective anti-doping structure.

Just a handful of Russian athletes took part in track and field at the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed from 2020 to 2021 because of the Covid pandemic, and they did so under a neutral flag.

A lifting of sanctions over the doping issue will have little immediate effect, however, as all Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from competition "for the foreseeable future" since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. That includes the option of competing as a neutral.

The decision was announced after a three-day meeting of World Athletics' decision-making Council in Monaco.

"The Council approved the Russia Taskforce's recommendation that RusAF, which has been suspended for seven years due to doping, be reinstated after meeting all the requirements of the Reinstatement plan, which has been confirmed by an independent audit," the head of the anti-doping Taskforce, Rune Andersen, said.

RusAF will, however, be required to comply with a set of 35 "special conditions" that are intended to ensure that RusAf's anti-doping reforms remain in place and continue to operate effectively.

In a statement World Athletics described those conditions as allowing the "Athletics Integrity Unit to monitor, evaluate, communicate, mentor, oversee and assist RusAF and its external stakeholders to ensure they maintain good governance practices and to protect RusAF from external pressures and attempts to influence or control its functioning".

Coe said the Russian process had been "a mammoth undertaking over seven years" but he and the anti-doping Taskforce were confident "that the Russian Federation has reformed its structure and culture and is now on the right path in terms of addressing doping issues".

He added: "It is important that RusAF continues on this path, but we are confident the Athletics Integrity Unit has the expertise to monitor and assess the situation going forwards."

Turning to the conflict in Ukraine, Coe added that "the unprecedented sanctions" imposed on Russia and Belarus by countries around the world "appear to be the only peaceful way to disrupt and disable Russia’s current intentions and restore peace".

"The death and destruction we have seen in Ukraine over the past year, including the deaths of some 185 athletes, have only hardened my resolve on this matter.

"The integrity of our major international competitions has already been substantially damaged by the actions of the Russian and Belarusian governments, through the hardship inflicted on Ukrainian athletes and the destruction of Ukraine’s sports systems," he added.

"Russian and Belarusian athletes, many of whom have military affiliations, should not be beneficiaries of these actions."