Will the entire Russian team be banned from Rio Olympics?

Anti-doping authorities say Russia's sports ministry orchestrated doping and cover-ups.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
President of Russia's Olympic Committee Alexander Zhukov opens the meeting of Russia's Olympic Committee in Moscow on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. Mr. Zhukov says he expects a final decision by Sunday on whether the entire Russian team will be banned from next month's games in Rio over doping.

The International Olympic Committee is expected to announce by Sunday whether it will ban Russian teams from next month’s games in Rio de Janeiro over a doping scandal, according to Russian officials.

"The issue will be finally resolved by the end of this week, probably on Sunday," Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said on Wednesday at an ROC meeting, according to the Associated Press.

The scandal stems from a November report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) charging the Russian sports ministry with running a doping program, mostly for members of its national track and field team, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in June.

“While it's true that athletes from many nations have been caught doping, the nature and scope of Russia's alleged offenses are unusually egregious,” the report said. “If the accusations are true, Russia not only ran a state-sponsored doping program but also essentially engineered a sweep of the 2014 Sochi Olympic medal count by hijacking the anti-doping testing program.”

Upon the report’s release, the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) blacklisted the national team and warned that unless Russia undertook profound reforms of its anti-doping checks, it would be banned from the Rio games. In mid-June, the WADA took another look and again found more of the same, leading the IAAF to issue a unanimous decision banning Russian track and field athletes from competing in international competitions, saying the testing system was “tainted by doping from the top level and down”.

On Sunday, Mr. Zhukov told the AP that the Russian Olympic Committee did not discuss the WADA findings at the meeting, but would not rule out the possibility of legal action if Russian athletes were banned from the Rio games.

Russia has appealed the IAAF’s blacklisting, and the Kremlin denies state involvement in the doping and subsequent attempts at cover-ups.  A verdict on its appeal will be issued by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Thursday. The IOC will consider the verdict before it makes its final decision.

Two Russian athletes were able to escape inclusion in the IAAF ban after proving that they had been tested independently. One, long jumper Darya Klishina, may compete in Rio de Janeiro under a neutral Olympic flag, along with ten athletes who are refugees from war-torn countries. The other, runner Yuliya Stepanova, will not compete, after all, because of an injury.

Ms. Stepanova was banned from competing in 2013 because of anomalies in a doping test. She became a key whistleblower upon the November 2014 release of a German documentary, in which she recorded her coach giving her what she claimed was a banned steroid, according to The Guardian.

Also in the documentary, her husband – a former employee of Russia’s anti-doping agency – said the agency would routinely get calls from the Russian sports ministry, which would help cover up positive test results for famous or especially promising athletes.

Mr. Zhukov said that Russia is continuing to make plans under the assumption that the track and field team’s 68 athletes would be able to compete in the Rio games, along with some 319 other Russian national athletes. He added that regardless of the ruling, Russia would not boycott the games – as the Soviet Union did in 1984 in response to a US boycott in 1980.

"These boycotts just lead to a breakup of the Olympic movement," he told the AP. "I think that Russia will never take part in any boycott."

This report includes material from the Associated Press. 

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