The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) meets in Vienna June 17 to decide whether to lift a temporary ban on Russia’s track and field athletes amid growing allegations of state-sponsored doping.
If they extend the ban past August, Russia’s athletics team would not be able to participate in the Rio Olympics.
Russia prides itself on Olympic athletic prowess and the possibility of not being allowed to compete has many here furious.
The ruling will be based on whether or not Russia has done enough to clean up its doping problems.Russia denies World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) accusations that its officials carried out a well-organized scheme to administer performance-enhancing drugs to its athletes and hide the evidence.
FILE - Tablets and vials of meldonium, also known as mildronate, are photographed in Moscow, March 8, 2016. Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova says she failed a drug test for meldonium at the Australian Open.
The allegations, stemming from a 2015 documentary investigation by Germany’s ARD, gathered steam last week as another ARD report said banned coaches were still working and named Russia’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko as having direct involvement in covering-up doping.Mutko called the accusation “laughable” and the timing of the report an attempt to sway the IAAF’s ruling.
Sports reputation tainted
Regardless of the IAAF’s decision, Russian sports’ reputation has been marred by the scandal, sports analyst Vladimir Geskin told VOA in a recent interview.
“I think that to worsen Russia's sport reputation and doping reputation more than now is impossible.Because the chain of scandals has been going on for 2 years, there is no end seen,” says Geskin.“We have such an expression in Russian: You reap what you sow.So from my point of view we are reaping today what we have sown,” he concludes.
Since Russian athletics were suspended in November, Russian officials have swung between labeling the accusations a political hit job, and part of anti-Russia western conspiracy, to acknowledging that Russian sports have a doping problem they are working to clean up and that serious mistakes were made.But, Russian officials have never acknowledged state-sponsored doping, instead blaming individual athletes and coaches.
File - Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko gestures during an interview with Reuters in Moscow, March 11, 2016.
Even critics like Geskin doubt the claims of former anti-doping lab chief Grigory Rodchenkov who says the Russian state and secret services were directly involved in doping.
Mutko dismissed Rodchenkov as disgraced, disgruntled and in the pay of foreign masters.He fled to the United States, he says, in fear of his life.Two other Russian officials died suddenly as the doping scandal emerged, though officials have brushed off speculation of any foul play.
But testimony of widespread doping from two whistle-blowers in the ARD investigation, former international runner Yulia Stepanova and her husband, former anti-doping agency official Vitaly Stepanov, makes the accusations harder to dismiss.
Cleaning up doping?
Russia responded by banning a number of athletes and coaches from sports and announced plans to make the use of performance enhancing drugs a criminal offense.
Geskin says officials have demonstrated a desire to reign in the doping problem.
“I think that all that was necessary and more was done here.All the officials were changed in the All-Russian Athletics Federation, all those who were at the head positions there were changed.The laws and the rules were changed,” he says.
Many in Russia are crying unfair at the possibility that all Russian track and field athletes could be excluded from the Olympics, even those with clean records.
FILE - Grigory Rodchenkov, the ex-director of Russia's anti-doping agency RUSADA, told The New York Times on May 12 that he helped provide banned substances to athletes and replace drug-tainted testing samples with clean ones during the Sochi Olympics.
Engineer Alexander Zarakovsky says all sportsmen should compete honestly but not allowing a Russian athletics team at the Rio Olympics would be very sad.“We have very good athletes.It wouldn't be very good for the competition or the people to lose a whole stratum of athletes in Rio,” he says.
Student Grigory Gerpendal says it is clear why Russia is being taken to task for doping but he hopes the team is not banned."I wouldn't like it to happen.On the other hand,” he says, “if the tests truly show the use of banned substances then it would be justified.But it would be unfortunate,” he adds.“I hope the results are clean.”
Mutko last week called for the results from athletes’ drug-testing samples stored since previous Olympics, known as “B samples,” to be thrown out after two tested negative when their earlier “A samples” had tested positive.
The International Olympic Committee says tested B samples from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics found 55 positive for banned substances.Russia’s International Olympic Committee says 22 of them involved Russian athletes, including some medalists.
The results of the B samples will be key, Geskin told VOA in May.“Because if they are clean than Rodchenkov deceives and invents,” he said.“If there are positive results than he is right and it's a 100 per cent different situation,” he concluded.