Athletics News

IAAF play the waiting game with Russia, but what does it all mean?

The International Association of Athletics Federations [IAAF] were fast out of the blocks this morning in response to yesterday’s revelations of doping bans for five of the most-decorated Russian race-walkers of recent times. The governing body released a statement saying that it will adhere to its usual procedure and await the reasoned decision of the Russian Anti-Doping Authority (Rusada) before deciding whether to accept or reject the sanctions.

Golden Girl: Olive Loughnane, who finished second to Kaniskina in 2009, is set to be upgraded to gold.

Golden Girl: Olive Loughnane, who finished second to Olga Kaniskina in 2009, is set to be upgraded to gold.

In the end, the IAAF appears to have two options. They can accept the bans, which will see five of Russia’s most successful race walkers banned for anywhere between three years and life, but incredibly not affect any of their Olympic medal-winning performances. Three of the five athletes – Olga Kaniskina, Valeriy Borchin and Sergei Kirdyapkin – have won Olympic gold.

However, the most likely scenario is that the IAAF will appeal the bans, and there is a strong possibility the case will end up at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, with the Rusada arguing that their athletes didn’t deserve to have their Olympic results annulled based on the timing of their blood passport irregularities, and the IAAF rejecting that stance.

Of course, right now that’s simply speculation, but there appears to be few precedents in anti-doping where an athlete has been allowed to keep a medal won despite, as Rusada declared, having doped shortly before and shortly after a medal-winning performance. If the Russian race walkers manage to escape with their Olympic medals intact, it may set a dangerous precedent in anti-doping regulations whereby a national anti-doping body has the luxury of picking certain results to annul for an athlete’s transgressions, all the while allowing them to retain the most important medal-winning performances for their country on the grandest stage: the Olympics.

So what does it all mean? Well, short of any freak occurrence, Olive Loughnane will be awarded world gold from Berlin in 2009, but at the moment, Rob Heffernan will not get an Olympic 50km  bronze medal from 2012 (when he was beaten by the now-banned Kirdyapkin) or indeed the European 50km bronze from 2010 (when he was beaten by Sergey Bakulin). However, the Cork athlete has reason to hope, and right now his hope sits at the door of the IAAF. His fate, and a possible two bronze medals, including that elusive Olympic medal, will be decided by their reaction to the Rusada decision.

What will happen? It’s too early to say for certain, but it’s likely he’ll get his hands on that 2012 Olympic medal, though by the time he eventually gets to see it, if indeed he does get to see it, he’ll probably already have taken his final shot at winning one at the Rio Olympics, 2016.

Anyway, enough of me; here’s the statement from the men in charge this morning. Below that, have a listen to our podcast, where we disucss all the fallout from yesterday’s scandal and tell you what Olive Loughnane had to say on the matter.

In light of media inquiries into sanctions announced yesterday in the Russian media, the IAAF would like to clarify a number of points.

All athletes were caught under the IAAF Athlete Biological Passport programme (ABP) although, as per IAAF Rules, the cases are sent to the Russian Federation (ARAF) for adjudication.

The IAAF is satisfied that we have found aggravating circumstances in all cases, as we requested when referring the case to the Russian authorities.

As a result of these cases, major international titles will be redistributed, BUT not until the IAAF has received, and carefully analysed, the full reasoned decision from ARAF to ensure they are in strict compliance with IAAF Rules.

As a result of these five new cases, a total of 23 elite Russian athletes have now been sanctioned under the IAAF ABP programme which was launched in 2009 (37 athletes in total from all nations have been sanctioned in this period as ABP cases).

The number of Russian doping cases in athletics generally, and in race walking specifically, is a major concern for the IAAF and we are fully investigating recent doping allegations in Russian athletics, with WADA’s support.

Golden Girl: Olive Loughnane, who finished second to Kaniskina in 2009, is set to be upgraded to gold.
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Cathal Dennehy

Cathal Dennehy

Cathal Dennehy is a freelance journalist, a once-serious, now-retired athlete who writes for a number of international publications in the running industry. He has won two sports-writing awards, the Peter Ball Memorial Award in Ireland and the Wills Writing Award in the UK. Nationally, he previously worked for the Sunday Tribune, Irish Runner magazine and has written for the Sunday Independent, Irish Independent, the Guardian and The Independent in Britain. He is a regular contributor to Running Times, Runner's World, RunBlogRun and the IAAF website.
His banter levels are often poor, occasionally exceptional.

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