World Athletics to rule on Russia ahead of Olympics

by Luke PHILLIPS
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High jumper Mariya Lasitskene has attacked Russia's handling of the doping crisis

World Athletics is to decide Thursday whether to start the procedure of reinstating the new-look Russian athletics federation, as well as initiating the process to allow Russian athletes who test clean to compete under a neutral banner at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Russia has been suspended by World Athletics (then known as the IAAF) since 2015 over repeated doping scandals -- a ban upheld 12 times -- and has been fighting for readmission.

The last report by World Athletics' Task Force, in November, led to its decision-making Council suspending the process of reinstating RUSAF over charges against its officials that they obstructed an anti-doping investigation.

The Council also put a freeze on the system of allowing Russian athletes to compete as "Authorised Neutral Athletes".

Those decisions prompted wholesale change at RUSAF, which has a newly-appointed head in Yevgeny Yurchenko.

In one of his first conciliatory moves in the stand-off, Yurchenko sent two letters to World Athletics, the first "concerning our cooperation and in regard to scandalous situations, which had left an impact on our relations for many years".

Yurchenko said he had agreed with accusations made by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) against RUSAF on the wrongdoings in the case of high jumper Danil Lysenko, in which "forged documents and false explanations" were provided as an alibi to his whereabouts, as required by anti-doping rules.

In January, the AIU, the independent anti-doping watchdog for track and field, recommended World Athletics maintain the exclusion of RUSAF and the freeze on Russian athletes competing under a neutral flag unless it failed to provide evidence in the Lysenko case, which had proved to be a tipping point.

- Negative consequences -

Yurchenko, who also apologised for the negative consequences from the Lysenko case, said his second letter was sent to World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe.

Coe, Yurchenko said, "will initiate the process of issuing to Russian athletes neutral status permits for their participation in international tournaments", with RUSAF's membership reinstatement with World Athletics "set to be launched".

That promises to be good news for three-time high-jump world champion Mariya Lasitskene, who has been vocal in her criticism of the former RUSAF regime for its handling of the scandal.

Lasitskene, pole vault world champion Angelica Sidorova and men?s 110m metres hurdles star Sergey Shubenkov held a meeting with Coe last week, reportedly on relaunching the so-called "ANA scheme", which allows eligible Russian athletes to compete as neutrals at events.

Moscow's case has been made more complicated after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in December imposed a four-year ban from all international sporting competitions on Russia over what it considers a state-sponsored programme of doping, a suspension the country took to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

CAS, the world's highest sporting court, will now have to decide whether to confirm the WADA ban, or listen to Russia's case against the sanction. A ruling is not expected before May, with the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to start on July 24, in just 134 days.

The International Olympic Committee said CAS had to make a clear-cut decision, with no room for "any kind of interpretation", over whether Russia was to be banned not just from Tokyo, but also the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar.

In Monaco, the World Athletics council will also discuss the effects of the spread of the coronavirus, with several members, including those from outbreak hotspots China and Italy, taking part remotely by teleconference because of travel restrictions in their countries.

The COVID-19 outbreak has already caused the world indoor championships in Nanjing, China, due to be held this month, to be delayed by a year, and the world half-marathon champs in Gdynia, Poland, to be re-scheduled from March 29 to October 17.

High jumper Mariya Lasitskene has attacked Russia's handling of the doping crisis

Yevgeny Yurchenko is the new head of the Russian athletics federation