Russian return to Olympic Games uncertain

No timetable for Russia's return to next year's Olympic Games, says IAAF head Sebastian Coe

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Sebastian Coe, IAAF's President, attends the IAAF press conference in Monaco, November 26, 2015.

The question of whether Russia will take part in next year's Olympic Games was no clearer on Thursday after IAAF president Sebastian Coe held a news conference dominated instead by his personal relationship with Nike.

Russia was banned from athletics two weeks ago after a report by the independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) detailed systematic, state-sponsored doping and related corruption in the country that had "sabotaged" the 2012 Olympics.

The Russian athletics federation said on Thursday it would not appeal against the ban and would work closely with the governing IAAF and WADA to put measures in place that would lead to a reinstatement, but Coe was unable to give a timeframe.

Coe spent most of the 40-minute news conference answering questions about his decision to cut his ties with sportswear company Nike and though the Russia situation was expected to be the main topic of the council meeting, he said it had only been "touched upon."

Athletics superpower Russia will definitely miss the world indoor championships in Portland, in the United States, in March but Coe would not be drawn on the country's prospects of being allowed back in time for the August Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"There is no deadline," he told Reuters. "It is for the IAAF [International Association of Athletics Federations] to decide the right and proper moment for the Russian federation and their clean athletes to get back into competition.

"It is our instinct to get clean athletes back into competition but that is entirely predicated on the speed with which we can get our inspection team and the Russian federation to meet.

"Only then, when we're entirely satisfied that we have enacted the change that we want, will we welcome back the clean athletes."

Precise Criteria

The former British Member of Parliament had left his audience reeling when he delivered a further explanation that would have made his former Civil Service colleagues beam with pride.

"The issue is going to be a synthesis of the conclusion on precise criteria," he said, testing the talents of the six simultaneous translators sitting in a booth alongside him.

Much of Thursday's meeting was taken up with an agenda item entitled "integrity and governance" as the IAAF seeks to reform itself in the wake of criticism from WADA's commission and against a background of Coe's presidential predecessor Lamine Diack facing a French police investigation into doping-related corruption.

The Council approved Coe's new integrity unit which he said will look at anti-doping, the manipulation of sports competitions, age manipulations, allegiance switches and the behavior and conduct of third parties and representatives.

"The Council gave full approval for the integrity unit. We looked at an organizational restructure, radically altering the way the organizations works and how it connects to the rest of the athletics family," Coe said.

It was a first full meeting for Stephanie Hightower, the president of US Track and Field, and she pulled few punches in her assessment.

"Our entire system has failed athletes," she said. "All our council members are determined to rebuild trust amongst athletes and fans."

Coe agreed that the sport faced a difficult task.

"The journey back to trust is not a scientific one, there are no certainties," he said. "How long it will take I don't know - but I think it will probably outsee my [four-year] mandate."