Russian Track & Field Team Banned from Rio Olympics in Unprecedented Decision

In an unprecedented decision, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) announced on Friday, June 17, 2016, that Russia and the Russian Athletics Federation has failed to show enough progress to warrant lifting the November 2015 provisional doping scandal suspension. Although the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will make the final call about Russian’s participation in the Rio Olympics, the decision bars the team from competition.

The track-and-field team was provisionally banned from competition following a 2015 report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). WADA’s report found that athletes, coaches, doctors, and the Russian Federal Security Service were systematically involved in a doping cover up. Additionally, WADA found the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) to be non-compliant. The investigation was triggered by whistleblower Vitaly Stepanov, a former RUSADA employee, and his wife, a former 800-meter Russian runner. Both left the country following divulging the information in 2014.

On Wednesday, June 15, 2016, just days before the IAAF was set to rule on the provisional ban, WADA released a report that updated the status of Russian drug testing. The scathing report highlighted incidents of athletes attempting to provide false urine samples, eluding drug testing officials following competition, doping control officers receiving threats of expulsion from Russia, and attempted bribery. WADA has also blamed the IAAF for failing to adequately address the doping scheme, noting a breakdown in governance and a lack of accountability.

The IAAF stated that in order for Russia to be found in compliance with anti-doping standards, all Russian organizations involved must show that there is a culture of zero-tolerance towards athletic doping. Presently, the IAAF considers Russia to be lenient towards athletic doping. Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized the ban, calling the punishment unfair to those athletes in compliance with both Russian and IAAF’s policies. Russian athletes have pleaded with the IOC to be allowed to compete in Rio, penning a letter encouraging punishment to be applied only to those athletes in violation.

A recent article from the New York Times alleged additional doping accusations, including claims that Russia ran a widespread state doping program at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.  Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of an anti-doping laboratory in Moscow, alleges that at least 15 Russian medalists in Sochi used illegal steroids. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed allegations, considering them to be simply a defector’s slander.

The ruling comes amid threats of disqualifying Russia from the Euro 2016 tournament. Fan violence at last weekend’s match against England forced the Union of Eurpean Football Associations to assign Russia a suspended disqualification and a $168,000 (150,000-euro) fine. The suspended disqualification will result in actual disqualification if fan behavior does not improve.

In addition to Russia, the Bulgarian weightlifting team has been banned from Rio for doping.

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