By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
(Reuters) – The Athletics Integrity Unit Board on Wednesday called for the expulsion of Russia’s suspended athletics federation (RUSAF) after what it described as a “total lack of contrition” in its response to a long list of anti-doping violations.
The AIU’s recommendation, made to the council of World Athletics, comes after it assessed the explanations provided by the federation regarding its leadership’s involvement in serious breaches of anti-doping rules.
Russia’s athletics federation was initially suspended in 2015 after a report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found evidence of mass doping in the sport and had since been trudging toward reinstatement.
But in November last year, World Athletics, the global governing body of athletics formerly known as the IAAF, halted Russia’s reinstatement process and raised the prospect of expelling the federation altogether over doping violations by its president and several of its representatives.
The AIU, the independent unit set up by the sport’s governing body in 2017 to manage integrity issues, had provisionally suspended Dmitry Shlyakhtin, the Russian federation’s president, and six other people for having provided forged documents to justify a whereabouts violation by high jumper Danil Lysenko.
In a strong statement on Wednesday, the AIU said the federation had not put “forward any material or evidence that it contends answers the AIU’s case against it”, despite having been granted three extensions to provide its explanations.
It said the federation had instead denied its involvement and blamed others.
“The AIU Board finds it regrettable that, in the face of clear and compelling evidence, RUSAF has chosen not to admit to the acts and omissions of the employees, directors and representatives…” the AIU said in a statement.
“A responsible member federation in the circumstances would have admitted the charges and shown contrition for its conduct, but RUSAF has chosen to do neither.”
The AIU recommended that World Athletics expel and fine the federation as part of “severest possible consequences” if its the anti-doping breaches are upheld.
Following the AIU’s recommendations on Wednesday, World Athletics said the charges brought against the Russian athletics federation were “extremely serious” and that it would review them in the coming days.
It also suggested that Russia could possibly avoid expulsion if its officials came clean and admitted their involvement in the scandal.
World Athletics said it would start by sending a letter to the federation’s acting president and Oleg Matytsin, Russia’s next sports minister, to lay out the country’s options before the dispute gets to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
It said that if federation officials admit the AIU charges, the World Athletics council will decide on the sanctions to impose against the federation, but these would not include expulsion at that stage.
It will also decide on a new process to clear Russians to compete internationally, World Athletics said.
The AIU last year halted the process used since 2016 to clear some Russian track and field athletes to compete internationally as neutrals, including three-times world high jump champion Maria Lasitskene. It said on Wednesday that the process would remain suspended until the charges against the federation were determined.
This means that Russia’s top track and field athletes are likely to miss the 2020 winter season, that will not include the world indoor championships. The event, which had been scheduled to take place in March in Nanjing, China, has been postponed to 2021 over fears related to the outbreak of the coronavirus in the country.
But if Russia’s federation officials continue to deny involvement, World Athletics said it will “put all necessary resource into presenting the charges to the CAS”.
Russia’s athletics federation had no immediate comment.
In a jab at the federation, world champion pole vaulter Anzhelika Sidorova tagged it in an Instagram story and wrote “good job”, accompanied by three flexed biceps emojis.
Russia is also in the process of appealing a four-year ban from competing under its flag at major international sporting events, including this year’s Tokyo Olympics, after WADA found Moscow had provided it with doctored laboratory data.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow and Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ed Osmond)