By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Athletics’ governing body has voted overwhelmingly to suspend Russia from the sport for widespread, state-sponsored doping and the ban will include the 2016 Olympics unless the country can demonstrate a major change in their approach and controls.
After a three-hour teleconference on Friday, hosted by its president Sebastian Coe, the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) council voted 22-1 in favour of the sanction, with the Russian representative not able to vote.
The meeting was called to discuss Monday’s report by the independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which recommended the punishment — unprecedented for doping offences.
The report alleged “systemic” collusion between Russian athletes and both the country’s federation and anti-doping authorities and a “deeply-rooted culture of cheating” that enabled athletes to take performance-enhancing drugs without fear of being tested.
The report recommended suspending the Russian federation until a “new framework” was in place.
“We will get the change we want and only then will Russian athletes return to international competition,” Coe told reporters after Friday’s call.
“This is not about politics, this is about the protection of clean athletes. I cannot overstate the feeling around the conference call this evening about sending the strongest possible message that we can.
“This has been a shameful wake-up call and we are clear that cheating at any level will not be tolerated.
“But we discussed and agreed that the whole system has failed the athletes, not just in Russia, but around the world.”
Asked if Russia would be able to make the required changes in time to return for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics next August, Coe said: “It is entirely up to the Russian federation. Our verification team will be tough and will want to make sure that before there is a re-introduction to the sport for their athletes and the federation those changes have taken place.”
Russia will be stripped of hosting the world race walking and world junior championships next year while the first competition to be affected by the ban is the European cross-country championships in France on Dec. 13.
The main athletics events in 2016 are the world Indoor Championships, the European athletics championships and the Olympics.
Russia are one of the superpowers of the sport and finished second behind the United States in the track and field medal count at the 2012 Olympics in London.
“To regain membership to the IAAF the new federation would have to fulfil a list of criteria,” Coe said.
“An inspection team will be led by Independent Chair Rune Andersen, an independent international anti-doping expert (Norwegian) and three members of the IAAF Council who will be appointed in the next few days.”
Stephanie Hightower, president of US Track and Field and an IAAF council member, said of the “extraordinary” decision: “In light of the evidence, suspension was the only proper course of action… This sends a clear message to clean athletes that protecting them and protecting the sport, with a culture of accountability, is our top priority.
“Although this is a difficult time, in the long term, the sport ultimately will be stronger for it.”
The IAAF has previously suspended members, including South Africa during its Apartheid regime, Afghanistan, Vanuatu, Algeria and Gabon, but none of those were drugs-related.
Coe’s predecessor as president, Lamine Diack, is being investigated by French police over allegations he received bribes to cover up positive doping tests of Russian athletes but Friday’s meeting did not discuss that issue.
Other aspects of the IAAF’s actions regarding Russia were withheld from the commission’s report on Monday as they form part of an investigation by Interpol into international corruption involving officials and athletes.
Coe accepted, though, that the IAAF was also in the dock.
“The IAAF, WADA, the member federations and athletes need to look closely at ourselves, our cultures and our processes to identify where failures exist and be tough in our determination to fix them and rebuild trust in our sport,” he said.
“We find ourselves in a shameful position tonight and we need to look at ourselves.
“We have also addressed the failings of our own organisation and we have discussed strong, strong changes there,” added Coe, who said he had asked Paul Deighton, the former CEO of the London 2012 Olympics, to oversee a programme of changes within the governing body.
“The architecture of anti-doping has failed athletes worldwide,” Coe added.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)