Moscow: Russia sent a formal reply to damaging allegations of “state-sponsored” doping to world athletics’ governing body on Thursday as the IAAF prepared to consider suspending the track and field superpower.
Russian athletics was placed firmly in the doping dock and risked exclusion from next year’s Rio Olympics after the explosive accusations contained in Monday’s World Anti-Doping Agency report which rocked the Olympic’s flagship sport.
Russia’s immediate fate on the international stage is to be determined by athletics chief Sebastian Coe and the 27-strong IAAF council in a video-conference call meeting starting at 1800GMT on Friday.
Zelichenok told the R-Sports agency that Russia’s athletics authorities had produced the response “in such a way as to try to prove our innocence”.
“How many pages is it? One or 100, it’s not important,” he added.
In another development, Russia’s Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov flew into Lausanne in Switzerland Thursday evening for talks with International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach, R-Sport reported.
And the country’s second-largest bank, VTB, announced it would not renew a sponsorship contract with the IAAF, but insisted the decision had nothing to do with the doping scandal.
The fallout from the report’s damning conclusions reached as far up the ladder as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who held crisis talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi late Wednesday.
Putin ordered Russian officials to launch their own internal investigation and cooperate with international anti-doping authorities.
– no Olympic boycott –
“We must do everything in Russia to rid ourselves of this problem,” said Putin, an avid sportsman who led Russia’s bid to host last year’s Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup.
Speaking after the Sochi summit he added: “We must carry out our own internal inquiry.
“This problem does not exist only in Russia, but if our foreign colleagues have questions, we must answer them.”
The author of the 335-page WADA independent commission report, Canadian lawyer Dick Pound, said that the Russians should be barred from all athletics competition, even next summer’s Olympics, unless they acted quickly and strongly to stamp out systemic doping.
Should an Olympic ban be eventually imposed, Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko rejected the notion of a Russia boycott of Rio 2016.
In quotes published by British newspaper The Guardian, Mutko said that even if Russia’s athletes are suspended, “we don’t plan to boycott anything, anywhere”.
While initial Russian reaction to the report was conflicting — the Kremlin had dismissed the allegations as “groundless” — one concrete step taken was the resignation of the country’s discredited anti-doping laboratory boss, Grigory Rodchenkov, who WADA said deliberately destroyed almost 1,500 drug samples.
In a conciliatory gesture Mutko has suggested Russia would consider appointing for the first time a “foreign specialist” to take his place.
– Pay the price –
One leading IAAF council member, legendary Ukraine pole-vaulter Sergei Bubka, meanwhile warned that it would be wrong to punish innocent athletes for the transgressions of others.
“All those involved, officials, managers or coaches, must pay the price,” he told the AIPS world sports journalists association.
“But ordinary athletes, those who have nothing to do with this matter, should not have to miss a single competition.”
The IAAF, he said, needed to live up to its responsibilities as an important player on the world sports stage but it must take it “case by case, person by person.”
Mikhail Butov, the Russian athletics federation’s secretary general and another IAAF council member, conceded that doping was an issue.
“We are conscious of the problem that we’ve got. We’ve got a problem with doping,” he admitted to the BBC.
The crisis engulfing athletics comes hot on the heels of a massive corruption scandal at world football’s top body FIFA and as cycling is still recovering from the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.
On Wednesday shamed former IAAF president Lamine Diack, 82, who is facing corruption charges, resigned from his position on the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Fears are growing that the scandal could widen to include other countries and other sports, as WADA suggested in its report.