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WADA says Russian track athletes should be independent at Games

SportAccord - Day 3

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND - APRIL 19 : Sir Craig Reedie WADA President and Vice President of the IOC addresses the ASOIF General Assembly during the third day of SportAccord Convention at the SwissTech Convention Centre on April 19, 2016 in Lausanne, Switzerland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

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The World Anti-Doping Agency sided against international Olympic officials Wednesday in a statement supporting track and field’s decision to bar Russian athletes from competing under their own flag at the upcoming Summer Games.

The statement, delivered by WADA president Craig Reedie, who is also an IOC member, further scrambled the positions of the world’s foremost sports organizations on an issue that track’s federation, the IAAF, initially portrayed as having support from all sides.

Last Friday, IAAF barred the Russian track team from competing at the Rio Games. It changed its rules to clear the way for a small number of Russian athletes to participate under an independent flag, providing they could show they had been subject to doping controls outside their home country.

The IAAF said it had support of the IOC on the ruling, and the IOC’s initial reaction didn’t appear to veer from that.

But on Tuesday, the IOC countered that decision, saying Russian athletes who were cleared had no choice but to compete as part of Russia’s Olympic committee. Then came Wednesday’s statement from WADA and Reedie, who said “WADA strongly believes that the IAAF decision must be upheld as it was articulated on 17 June.”

“Until the required cultural changes in Russia is well-advanced through strong education and prevention programs, supported by independent doping control and robust compliance programs, WADA cannot assure clean athletes of the world that it is reforming,” Reedie said.

The WADA statement also called out the IOC for not ruling in the case of 800-meter runner Yulia Stepanova, the Russian whistleblower who helped bring to light many of the misdeeds in her country’s anti-doping system. The statement reiterated WADA’s support of the IAAF recommendation to allow Stepanova to compete under an independent flag. On Tuesday, IOC president Thomas Bach said the committee didn’t discuss the issue.

Though there does appear to be agreement on the bottom-line issue of admitting Russian track and field athletes - they will be there, but few in numbers - the decision whether they compete on the Russian team or as independents is clearly turning into more than a mere symbolic debate.

WADA and the IAAF are portraying it as a core issue, arguing organizations as corrupt as Russia’s track team should not be given a spot in international events.

The IOC, meanwhile, is framing it more as a bookkeeping issue.

“If there are athletes qualified, then they will compete as members of the team of the Russian Olympic Committee because only a national Olympic committee can enter athletes to the Olympic Games,” Bach said. “There are no teams of international federations there. And the Russian Olympic Committee is not suspended.”

The IOC will allow a group of refugee athletes to compete under the Olympic flag in Rio. Also, Kuwaiti athletes are likely to compete as independents because their national Olympic committee has been suspended for government interference.

Caught very much in the middle is Reedie, who as an IOC member and president of WADA could be seen as supporting both sides. He has been criticized as being conflicted, and too soft on wrongdoers. His statement Wednesday left little doubt about where he stands on this issue.

He also pointed toward the July 15 release of an independent investigation looking into allegations the Russian government helped anti-doping authorities manipulate urine samples at the Sochi Olympics to avoid positive tests. It’s a probe that could have implications for the entire Russian sports program and its government, not only the track team.

“If involvement of the state is clearly established, then sports authorities must collectively respond, in an uncompromised fashion, and ensure that the necessary consequences are put in place to protect clean sport,” Reedie said.

Athletes and the Russian Olympic Committee are appealing the bans to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is the highest court in the sports world and would presumably have final say on any issue that comes before it.

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