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Russian sports body promises court battle if national athletes’ neutral status yanked

The World Athletics Council is set to decide on the future of Russian athletes’ participation in international tournaments on July 29-30, as announced earlier
RusAF President Yevgeny Yurchenko Alexander Shcherbak/TASS
RusAF President Yevgeny Yurchenko
© Alexander Shcherbak/TASS

MOSCOW, July 8. /TASS/. The All-Russia Athletics Federation (RusAF) pledges to go to court in case national track and field athletes are banned from international tournaments, including under the so-called neutral status, RusAF President Yevgeny Yurchenko said on Wednesday.

The World Athletics Council is set to hold a video conference on July 29-30. The issue of RusAF’s membership and the future of Russian athletes’ participation in international tournaments will be on the agenda of this session.

"Withdrawing the right of the neutral status participation is a monstrous violation of athletes’ rights," Yurchenko said in an interview with Russia’s Match TV sports broadcaster. "I believe that we must go to court to protect this right."

In March 2020, the World Athletics Council ruled to fine RusAF $5 million for an alleged attempt of the previous administration to forge official documents of high jumper Danil Lysenko. The deadline to repay the fine was set for July 1, 2020. In case of RusAF’s failure to pay the fine of $5 million to World Athletics before the set deadline of July 1, Russian athletes were to be denied permits to compete in international tournaments under a neutral status.

On July 2, World Athletics announced that RusAF failed to pay the fine before the deadline, while the overall amount of the penalty increased to $6.31 million.

The international federation, World Athletics, suspended RusAF’s membership in November 2015, following a wave of anti-doping rules violations and formed a special mission on the issue.

World Athletics, however, allowed clean athletes from Russia to participate in international tournaments under the neutral status or the Authorized Neutral Athlete (ANA) until the membership of the RusAF is reinstated. The ANA status prohibits Russian athletes from participating in all international track and field tournaments under the national flag.

World Athletics Taskforce Group, led by Norwegian expert Rune Andersen, was set up to oversee Russia’s implementation of requirements for RusAF’s membership reinstatement with World Athletics.

The suspension of Russia’s governing athletics body has been ruled to remain in force 12 times since its introduction in 2015 with the most recent decision made on September 23, 2019 before the start of the 2019 World Championships in Qatar’s Doha on September 27-October 6.

The World Athletics Council announced on November 22, 2019 its decision to suspend RusAF’s reinstatement process based on charges brought by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU). According to the World Athletics, the AIU charged RusAF on November 21, 2019 "with obstructing an investigation and provisionally suspended several senior federation officials for tampering and complicity."

The provisionally suspended senior officials at that time were then-President of RusAF Dmitry Shlyakhtin and at least four more high-ranking people from the federation. They were subjected to penalties for their alleged help in the falsification of documents, which Russian high jumper Danil Lysenko presented as his excuse for skipping obligatory doping tests. Shlyakhtin and at least four other officials of RusAF submitted letters of resignation on November 23.

On January 29, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) recommended World Athletics to consider an expulsion of RusAF from the list of its members in case the Russian side failed to provide evidence in the Lysenko case. The Russian side was advised to review the case once again and to come up with answers in regard to accusations on this issue.