Sports News

Russia sees better than even chance of competing in Rio

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s track and field team has a slightly better than even chance of overturning a doping ban and being allowed to compete at the Rio Olympics, athletics chief Dmitry Shlyakhtin said on Monday.

Sportsmen train at a local stadium in the southern city of Stavropol, Russia, November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko/Files

Russia was suspended from world athletics in November after an international investigation uncovered damning evidence of pervasive doping and corruption. Athletics’ governing body, the IAAF, will decide on June 17 whether Moscow has done enough to clean up its act and be readmitted to competition.

“Today our conscience is clear. We have done everything that we needed to do. We have started afresh, we have looked through our documents and made them legally sound. A mouse would not be able to slip past us now!” said Shlyakhtin, head of the All-Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF).

Missing the Aug. 5-21 Rio Games would be a severe blow to Russia, which since Soviet times has drawn pride and prestige from excelling at the Olympics.

The country has been rocked by successive scandals across a range of sports, including this month’s admission by former anti-doping official Grigory Rodchenkov that it ran a sophisticated operation at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics to protect its dope cheats by substituting clean urine samples for tainted ones.

That account has been described as absurd by Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko.

“I am not a prophet and I can’t say if the situation will change ahead of June 17 for better or for worse,” said Shlyakhtin, who was elected to his position in January after his predecessor Valentin Balakhnichev was handed a lifetime ban.

“I think our chances of competing in Rio de Janeiro are between 50 and 60 percent,” he told Reuters in interview.

An inspection commission from the IAAF has already visited Moscow several times this year, with another trip planned for May 25-27. “Now we have to tighten up and finish what we were asked to do by the group which is carrying out this investigation,” Shlyakhtin said.

“We are trying to do all of this so that our clean athletes can go to the Olympics. However, we have to psychologically be ready for everything on June 17 and remember this is not the end of the world.”

Shlyakhtin said there would be no Russian delegation to lobby at the Vienna meeting where the IAAF will make its decision.

“Even the general secretary of the ARAF Mikhail Butov, who is a presidium member of the IAAF, will not be taking part in the hearing of the report or the vote which will follow. The internal organs of the IAAF will decide the fate of Russian track and field.”

Reporting by Dmitriy Rogovitskiy; Editing by Mark Trevelyan