Russia doping suspension lifted, but war ban keeps athletes out

The Russian Athletics Federation has had its doping ban lifted but will still be excluded from international competition due to a ban over the war in Ukraine.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Ice Hockey
The International Olympic Committee is looking into how to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete as neutrals at the 2024 Paris Olympics [File: David W Cerny/Reuters]

World Athletics has voted to lift an eight-year doping ban on Russia, but the nation will remain excluded from international competition because of an ongoing separate ban over the invasion of Ukraine.

The decision was announced on Thursday after a three-day meeting of the World Athletics Council in Monaco.

“Council approved the recommendation to exclude athletes and officials from Russia and Belarus from all our world athletics series events for foreseeable future due to the invasion and ongoing war in Ukraine,” the president of the sports governing body, Sebastian Coe, said at a remote news conference.

Coe had previously said Russia would need to “get out of Ukraine” before any reinstatement could be considered.

He said on Thursday that a working group would be established to advise the council on the conditions that Russia would need to meet for the ban to be lifted.

“The unprecedented sanctions imposed on Russia and Belarus by countries and industries all over the world appear to be the only peaceful way to disrupt and disable Russia’s current intentions and restore peace,” he said.

Russia’s sports minister condemned the ongoing ban.

“We consider these politicised restrictions unacceptable, especially in the context of the recent speech by [International Olympic Committee President] Thomas Bach against political influence in sport,” Oleg Matytsin said, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is exploring ways to enable athletes from those nations to compete as neutrals at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Bach on Wednesday said the games should stay away from politics or risk losing their uniting power.

Matytsin added, “The Olympic Games should remain neutral, and international federations should give all the best athletes the right to compete in their sport.”

A handful of Russian athletes took part in track and field events at the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed from 2020 to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they did so under a neutral flag.

The World Athletics Council also recommended that organisers of the Diamond League and other tours take the same approach and exclude athletes and officials from both countries.

Doping ban

The Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) was banned in 2015 after the discovery of massive, state-sponsored doping and cover-ups. A failure to meaningfully address the issue meant that the suspension remained in place.

Rune Andersen, head of the Russia Task Force for World Athletics, reported in November that he was satisfied with the “new culture of good governance and zero tolerance for doping throughout the organisation”.

“An independent audit team confirms that RusAF has met all the detailed KPIs [key performance indicators] and other requirements set out in the reinstatement plan,” Andersen said on Thursday.

“RusAF has accepted a detailed set of post-reinstatement conditions designed to ensure there is no backsliding from the significant progress,” he said.

Coe said 35 conditions would be applied for the next three years with a review at the end of that period.

In recent years, dozens of Russian athletes had been allowed to compete as neutrals if they could show a doping-free background, but they are now unable to compete after the decision to maintain the Ukraine war ban. The neutral athlete programme has now ended.

Matytsin said the lifting of the 2015 ban was a “clear vindication of the effectiveness of the system of combating doping in sports”.

“Russia has established a strict anti-doping system at all levels,” he said. “We continue to foster a culture of clean sports among athletes, coaches and specialists. I am sure that the decision of World Athletics will give a new impetus to the implementation of our goals to further develop athletics.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies