New Russia athletics chief named to push reform

Moscow (AFP) - Russia's embattled athletics body on Saturday elected a new "anti-crisis" president, regional sports bureaucrat Dmitry Shlyakhtin, who has promised to rescue its reputation from doping claims ahead of the Rio Olympics.

Shlyakhtin, who has served as a regional sports official, was backed by Russia's Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko and elected unanimously to head the All-Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF) after two candidates withdrew themselves from the vote.

He will serve as an "anti-crisis" head of the body for the next several months, through the Olympic Games in Rio, before another vote in September or October, Mutko told journalists ahead of the decision.

"In this difficult period for Russian athletics, my task is simple, to return the federation to the international level, to reinstate the trust of IAAF and WADA, to give our athletes the opportunity to compete in international events," he told journalists after the vote.

"We must solve all of these problems quickly," he said, after Mutko said he hoped to "reinstate all the powers of our athletics federation in March."

The federation on Saturday also approved changes to its charter, which now includes a "large anti-doping bloc" of measures, ARAF spokeswoman Alla Glushchenko told AFP. She declined to give precise details about the amendments.

- 'Build back trust' -

Virtually unknown outside of Russia, Shlyakhtin has been sports minister of the Samara region on the Volga river for the last three years. Before that he headed the CSKA athletics club.

Mutko further called Shlyakhtin an "ideal candidate" and man of great experience reorganising CSKA.

"It's a critical situation, but we will be helping him," the minister told R-Sport agency. "We have to build back trust, I hope together we will manage this."

The IAAF provisionally suspended the ARAF in November and outlined strict reinstatement criteria last month, including severing ties with Russian athletics officials, officers or staff with any past involvement in doping.

Possibly due to this, ARAF secretary general Mikhail Butov withdrew his candidacy ahead of the vote Saturday. Butov had been invited for the secretary general post by ex-ARAF chief Valentin Balakhnichev, who is now banned by IAAF for life.

Another candidate Alexander Shustov, a 31-year-old veteran high-jumper, also retracted his candidacy, later explaining that he is planning to continue his career as an athlete for the time being.

"We decided not to task anyone from among former employees or athletes with work in the new athletics federation leadership," said Gennady Aleshin, who has been de-facto Russia's athletics representative in his capacity as head of an interim coordination commission of Russia's Olympic Committee.

"We must demonstrate consistent and tough work to eradicate our problems, to ensure that our athletes make it to the Rio Olympic Games," he told journalists.

Russia is facing an uphill battle after a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) independent commission alleged widespread state-sanctioned corruption and doping in the country's athletics.

The leadership of Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA -- which WADA claimed provided advance notice to athletes about out-of-competition testing -- last month resigned en masse following a pledge by President Vladimir Putin to "do everything" to fight doping.

Officials have also promised to promptly reaccredit RUSADA and the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, both suspended over the WADA report published in November.

Over four thousand Russian athletes have been banned from international competition and sports authorities are launching reforms and making promises to get the ban lifted in time for Rio.