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Russia sports minister: Rio ban would ‘risk tearing Olympic unity apart’

Vitaly Mutko

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 24: Vitaly Mutko Chairman of the Local Organising Committee listens during the Post-meeting of Organising Committee for the FIFA World Cup press conference ahead of the preliminary draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at Konstantin Palace on July 24, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

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In a newspaper column, Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko said officials are “ashamed” and “sorry” for breaking anti-doping rules and that a Rio Olympics without Russian track and field athletes would be “unjust” and “risk tearing this [Olympic] unity apart.”

Russia is expected to learn on June 17 whether its banned track and field program will be reinstated for the Rio Games that open Aug. 5.

“Serious mistakes have been made by the federation management, along with athletes and coaches who have broken anti-doping rules and neglected the principle of fair play, so fundamental to sport for immediate benefits,” Mutko wrote, according to the Times of London. “Let us be clear. We are ashamed of them.”

The column comes nine days after a state-sponsored Russian doping program leading into the Sochi Olympics, which included gold-medal winners, was first reported.

But Mutko’s column focused on Russia’s track and field program, which was suspended indefinitely six months ago for anti-doping issues and hasn’t been reinstated.

“We are very sorry that athletes who tried to deceive us, and the world, were not caught sooner,” Mutko wrote, according to the newspaper. “We are very sorry because Russia is committed to upholding the highest standards in sport and is opposed to anything that threatens the Olympic values.”

Mutko wrote that it would be “unfair and disproportionate” to ban Russian track and field from the Rio Olympics.

He cited the fact that a blanket ban could exclude clean athletes, other nations, specifically China and Kenya, also have doping problems and that Russia has “done everything that has been asked of us by the IAAF in order to be reinstated.”
“Doping is a global problem, not just a Russian one,” Mutko wrote, according to the newspaper. “It is hard to think of any sport or country around the world that has not been tainted with this issue.”

Mutko also cited “the Olympic spirit.”

“The Olympic Games should be a cause of unity,” he wrote. “Barring Russia’s athletes from competing in Rio would risk tearing this unity apart.”

Mutko said aspiring Russian Olympians will undergo at least three anti-doping controls by the IAAF before the Rio Games.

“Russia’s absence from Rio would be a permanent reminder of an Olympic Games that has been broken,” Mutko wrote, according to the newspaper. “It would also be poorer, not just for the lack of top athletes missing from its flagship events, but for missing the memories that our sportsmen and women could contribute.”

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