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Athletes from Russia ‘unlikely’ to return to track and field before Olympics, Seb Coe says

Seb Coe

Newly re-elected President of World Athletics Sebastian Coe during a media press conference for the World Athletics Council at the Hungexpo Congress Centre ahead of the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary. Picture date: Thursday August 17, 2023. (Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

PA Images via Getty Images

World Athletics president Seb Coe believes it’s unlikely that athletes from Russia will be reinstated to international track and field competition before the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“Unlikely, but look I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said Thursday, two days before the world championships open in Budapest. “We will of course monitor that situation ... what might the circumstances look like if there is any shift in the situation, but I have to say that looks unlikely at the moment given where we are with the events in Ukraine.”

World Athletics was one of the many international sports federations to bar athletes from Russia and Belarus from their competitions shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, using Belarus as a staging ground.

This past March, Russia’s track and field federation was reinstated from a seven-year suspension over doping violations, but athletes from that nation, and from Belarus, remain barred from international competition due to the war.

Last November, Coe was asked what it would take to lift the ban and said, “I think it’s fairly simple. Get out of Ukraine.”

Coe is one of 26 members of the World Athletics council that decides on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.

“Our position is very clear,” Coe said Thursday. “I would be very surprised if there was any shift in that position. I think that we have certainty, and we have done it for reasons of integrity of competition.”

Athletes must compete in World Athletics-approved competition by June 30 for the chance to qualify outright for the Paris Games.

The IOC has said its decision on whether athletes from Russia and Belarus can compete at the Olympics across all sports, which has not been made, will not be bound by the results of Olympic qualifying.

Some Olympic sports have lifted bans and allowed some athletes from Russia and Belarus to return in independent, neutral capacities.

Also Thursday, Coe repeated his hope to have “a big, punchy event” every year in the sport.

Traditionally, track and field has an outdoor world championships in odd years, an indoor world championships in even years and the Olympics every four years.

The one year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or outdoor worlds has often been called a “fallow year.” (There was no “fallow year” in this Olympic cycle due to COVID postponing the Tokyo Olympics to 2021 and the 2021 Worlds to 2022.)

The next year without a major global outdoor meet is 2026. Coe said there is “work in place” for “a three-day festival” to be introduced for that year. He did not elaborate, but said in the past he would like to see a “best-of-the-best” format.

Coe also repeated that he hopes that cross country running can be added to the Olympics as early as 2028 in Los Angeles.

World Athletics previously proposed adding a mixed-gender cross country relay for the 2024 Paris Games, but it did not happen.

It also discussed bidding to add cross country to the Winter Games.

The discipline was on the Summer Olympic program in 1912, 1920 and 1924.

Coe said there have been “good discussions” on cross country and noted strong relationships with people in Lausanne, Switzerland (home of the IOC) and the LA 2028 organizing committee.

“We need to watch this space, but it’s promising,” he said.