Russia’s athletics team remain banned from Olympics

Russia's athletics team remains banned from global competition after the sport's governing body voted unanimously against lifting the suspension for systemic doping.

Despite desperate Russian attempts to have the ban lifted before the Rio Olympics in August, the International Association of Athletics Federation's (IAAF) 27-strong council decided Russia had not met the criteria for reinstatement.

The All-Russia Athletics Federation was banned in November following an 11-month investigation by an independent commission chaired by former World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound.

Russia will now take its case to an International Olympic Committee meeting in Lausanne on Tuesday, with the further possibility of challenges against an Olympic ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The meeting in Vienna overran by nearly an hour but the main discussion point was not whether or not to lift the ban: it was how a ban would be enforced.

When the IAAF suspended the Russian federation it set up a task force, led by Norwegian anti-doping expert Rune Andersen, to assess the progress made in Russia to clean up its act, with 44 different criteria.

Those criteria were clearly not met, as a damning WADA report confirmed on Wednesday. That update painted a picture of a sports system that might take years, not seven months, to rebuild.

So in some ways, this was an easy decision for the council to take, particularly when you consider its own contribution to the scandal and the questions about IAAF president Lord Coe's ability, and right, to lead the organisation.

But the Russian establishment has spent the last few months ratcheting up the pressure on the IAAF, repeatedly listing the steps it has taken to remedy its problems and stating again and again that the ban will unfairly punish innocent athletes.

This view is known to be more sympathetically received by the IOC, which is loath to return to the era of boycotts and absent stars - and does not want to upset a country that hosts more major events than any other right now.

That was once a view shared by some senior athletics bosses, too, but opinions have hardened in recent weeks as bleak reports emerged from Andersen's task force and fresh scandals emerged about Russian sport.

The foremost of those is the subject of a second WADA-funded independent investigation, namely did Russia effectively sabotage the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi with a state-sponsored doping programme?

Russia’s athletics team remain banned from Olympics

That inquiry is led by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, who also sat on Pound's 2015 inquiry, and its report will go to the IOC by July 15.

If it is at conclusive as the first report, Russia could be looking at a complete Olympic ban, and not just one for its track and field team.

In the meantime, the argument moves to the IOC, with Russia hopeful that it will allow athletes who have passed numerous tests, around the world, with no suspicion of cheating, to compete in Rio.

Whether that is in neutral colours, under an IOC flag, or in Russian kit is completely unclear, as we are already in uncharted territory with a national ban for doping.

Russia's Ministry of Sport issued a statement which read: "We are extremely disappointed by the IAAF's decision to uphold the ban on all of our track and field athletes, creating the unprecedented situation of a whole nation's track and field athletes being banned from the Olympics.

"Clean athletes' dreams are being destroyed because of the reprehensible behaviour of other athletes and officials. They have sacrificed years of their lives striving to compete at the Olympics and now that sacrifice looks likely to be wasted.

"We have done everything possible since the ban was first imposed to regain the trust of the international community. We have rebuilt our anti-doping institutions which are being led by respected international experts.

"Our athletes are being tested by the UK's anti-doping agency, UKAD, and every one of them is undergoing a minimum of three tests in addition to the usual requirements. We have nothing to hide and feel we had met the IAAF's conditions for re-entry.

"We now appeal to the members of the International Olympic Committee to not only consider the impact that our athletes' exclusion will have on their dreams and the people of Russia, but also that the Olympics themselves will be diminished by their absence.

"The Games are supposed to be a source of unity, and we hope that they remain as a way of bringing people together."

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