'Bit of a breakthrough' but World Athletics to expel Russia if fine not paid in August
By Simon Ward
World Athletics has set Russia’s national federation a new deadline of the middle of next month to pay an outstanding penalty of $6.31 million for doping-related offences, or face expulsion.
RUSAF, which has been suspended since 2015, had failed to fulfil the requirement to make the payment by 1 July, raising the prospect of further sanctions from track and field's international governing body.
However, Rune Andersen, the chair of the independent taskforce responsible for the Russian reinstatement process, told the World Athletics council meeting, being held via teleconference, on Thursday, that the Russian sports minister Oleg Matytsin had that morning provided a guarantee that the overdue amount, comprising a fine of $5 million and costs of $1.31 million, would be paid by 15 August.
If the money is not forthcoming, then the council will recommend to the congress that Russia be expelled.
Other conditions set include the presentation of a draft reinstatement plan by 31 August, in advance of a final plan being agreed by 30 September, to go forward to the council for approval.
If these are met then, as in recent years, clean Russian athletes will be permitted to apply to compete as authorised neutral athletes in international competitions in 2020.
Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, described yesterday's development as “a bit of a breakthrough”, while stressing there was still much work to be done before RUSAF could be fully reinstated.
The ruling represents at least temporary respite for the national federation, which had this week written to World Athletics requesting that a decision on further sanctions be postponed.
In March, the national federation was hit with a fine of $10 million, of which half the figure, plus costs, was due to be paid at the start of July, for providing forged documents to world indoor high jump champion Danil Lysenko to give him an alibi for being unavailable for doping tests.
However, RUSAF claimed it could not afford the amount, and, earlier this month, Yevgeny Yurchenko stepped down as president after less than five months in office. He had succeeded Dmitry Shlyakhtin, who resigned after being charged by World Athletics' Athletics Integrity Unit for obstructing the Lysenko probe.
After RUSAF missed the first deadline, World Athletics suspended the work of the Doping Review Board, which decides which athletes can compete with neutral status, while the Russian taskforce was stood down.
RUSAF was initially suspended in fallout from the Russian doping scandal of 2015, which encompassed multiple summer and winter sports.
World Athletics said Andersen told the council on Thursday that the taskforce had seen “very little in terms of changing the culture of Russian athletics” over the last five years.
However, the pledge from the sports minister is being seen as a positive step, and, speaking at a press conference afterwards, Andersen said: “For the sake of clean Russian athletes, the taskforce hopes the payment will come through as promised and that the other conditions are met. If so, the taskforce stands ready to work with the members of the RUSAF reinstatement commission, including representatives of the ministry of sport, to bring about meaningful reforms in Russian athletics.”
Coe is also hopeful that the national federation will comply, while emphasising that World Athletics had been stricter on Russian doping issues than other international governing bodies.
He said: “This has been a tortuous process and I’m not going to sit here and say that it has been anything other than frustrating for the taskforce and for my council colleagues. We set out on the journey knowing that we were coming from a long way behind, that you don’t remedy this situation overnight, that the history here has been a sad one and a deeply ingrained one, and I wish that we’d made quicker progress on some issues than others.
“That hasn’t always been helped by the fact that in so many cases we have been a lone voice as a sport in this area. We have had to plough the field ourselves on most occasions, but I am pleased that we have made a bit of a breakthrough.
“It’s a start, and it’s only a start, but at least it does allow us now to recognise that the sanction that was given by the council in March has been recognised, that the exchange of letters is clearly identifying the fragilities that they (Russia) have been struggling with, and I think that gave my council today (Thursday) some comfort. At least we’re now in a position to continue the reinstatement process having had a very clear indication that they have accepted the seriousness and the severity of the situation.
“But the proof of the pudding will be in the reinstatement plan that we have from them, and that has to be detailed and that will be assessed, and the taskforce will have the responsibility of helping drive that.”
He concluded: “Once we are in receipt of that report by August 31, we then have another month to make sure that it is absolutely a credible report and only then will we feel we have the green light to take it to the next stage.”
In other developments at the two-day meeting of the World Athletics council, it was agreed to consider new dates for the 2021 World Cross Country Championships, which are due to take place in Bathurst in Australia on 20 March.
Given concerns over travel and gathering restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the local organising committee has requested that the event be delayed, and World Athletics will work closely with the various stakeholders to explore the options.
New dates have been agreed for other events postponed as a result of the Covid-19 situation, with the 2020 World U20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya moved to 17 to 22 August, 2021, a week after the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships in Minsk, Belarus rescheduled for 23 to 24 April, 2022.
The 2022 World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Yangzhou, China, have been put back a week, from 20 March to 27 March.
World Athletics has also agreed on a competition format for a new cross country event at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
It is proposed that the event be a mixed team relay for 15 countries in which teams of two men and two women will run two legs of a 2.5 kilometre course. The governing body will meet with the Paris 2024 organising committee shortly to discuss the plan.
Cross country has not featured on the Olympics programme since the last games in Paris in 1924.