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Russia track and field eyes ‘neutral status’ for athletes at winter meets

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MOSCOW (AP) — A year after the release of a damning report into widespread doping, Russian track and field is hopeful of a way back into the global fold.

On Nov. 9, 2015, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s independent commission unleashed a strongly worded, 323-page account of how Russian athletes, coaches and officials had colluded in the use of performance-enhancing drugs before and after the 2012 London Olympics.

That report set in motion a year of turmoil and legal battles for Russia, which had more than 100 athletes in various sports barred from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, including all but one member of the track and field team. The Russian track federation remains barred from international competition, with no date set for when it could return.

“We’ve lived through a hard year, very hard,” All-Russian Athletics Federation general secretary Mikhail Butov told The Associated Press. “Not just regarding the participation of our athletes at the Olympics, which was the most important thing for us, but in terms of recognizing the situation and understanding which way to go.”

Despite being under the heaviest sanctions in track and field history, Russian officials insist they are making progress on anti-doping reforms and plan to send athletes to major competitions in the coming months. The main target is the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, from March 3-5, federation president Dmitry Shlyakhtin said after talks with IAAF representatives in Monaco.

The IAAF will hold a special congress in Monaco on Dec. 3.

Any Russians who are allowed to compete will probably have to accept “neutral status” in IAAF events rather than officially representing Russia, Butov suggested. The IAAF declined to comment on the talks.

“The work has continued and there is something to show for it,” Butov said.

The only Russian who competed in track and field at the Rio Games was long jumper Darya Klishina, who was allowed to take part under IAAF rules because she had been based in the U.S. for several years, away from the Russian drug-testing system, which faced accusations that officials and lab staff had covered up hundreds of failed tests.

Russian track and field officials and athletes hope the IAAF will accept individual athletes’ applications to compete, even if the federation as a whole remains suspended.

“Now it seems as if that criterion about living abroad can probably be disregarded,” Butov said. “The issue now is that the testing that has been done in this period is considered convincing and guaranteed to give an athlete the opportunity to be considered for competition. If it’s not like that, it’ll be an endless process.”

The Russian drug-testing agency has been suspended for almost a year, with testing carried out in reduced numbers by Britain’s anti-doping agency. Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said the situation was “totally unacceptable” because UK Anti-Doping plans to collect only 6,000 samples in 2017, compared to the 20,000 collected by the Russian agency at its peak. He said that only national team athletes are being targeted for testing, leaving youth and junior athletes out of the system.

“So, in a situation like this, why not to find a fast-track way to give the accreditation back to RUSADA and to renew its activities, especially since it is under the full control of WADA?” Zhukov said in a speech to IOC officials released Wednesday. “What is preventing this? For our part, we would like to appeal to you as WADA’s founders to assist in the prompt reinstatement of the Russian anti-doping agency and the anti-doping laboratory in their rights.”

Among those who missed the Rio Games was hammer thrower Sergei Litvinov, who had hoped to compete in his first Olympics.

“I’ve spent the whole year on edge,” he said.

Litvinov, a vocal critic of drug use, had requested extra drug-testing by the IAAF to prove he was clean, but still came under the Russian team’s ban. He still doesn’t know when he can compete again.

“Whatever will be, will be,” he said. “It could all change at any moment.”

MORE: Russia passes tough anti-doping bill

USA Hockey to start reaching out to potential replacement players

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USA Hockey will begin reaching out to “alternate players” to determine their interest in playing for the U.S. at the women’s world championship next week amid a potential boycott by its national team.

The contact is taking place in the event a resolution cannot be reached between USA Hockey and the women’s national team in a wage dispute.

“It’s important for everyone to understand clearly that our objective is to have the players we named as the U.S. women’s national team be the ones that compete in the world championship,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, in a statement. “Productive conversations have taken place this week and are ongoing in our collective efforts to reach a resolution.”

The alternate players are in the professional NWHL and college, according to USA Today, a report that USA Hockey would not confirm.

U.S. captain Meghan Duggan has said every player in the U.S. national team player pool, plus under-18 national team players, committed to not playing at worlds unless the wage dispute is resolved.

“We are confident that they [potential replacement players] would choose not to play,” the U.S. players said in a statement.

The world championship tournament starts March 31 in Plymouth, Mich.

As of Thursday evening, no resolution has come between USA Hockey and its women’s national team. They met formally on Monday for more than 10 hours, with both sides calling it productive.

“We ask that they approve the original agreement that, the players believed, was acceptable to both parties after Monday’s meeting,” the players said in a statement. “Unless there is an agreement, the players remain resolved to bypass the defense of the world championship.”

Neither side has said when the next meeting will take place.

On Tuesday, USA Hockey said it postponed a pre-worlds camp that was to run through next Tuesday in Traverse City, Mich., and canceled a scheduled Friday exhibition against Finland.

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MORE: NHL asked for decision on Olympics by end of April

NHL asked for decision on Olympics by end of April

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International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel tells The Associated Press he needs to know by the end of April whether NHL players will be cleared to play in the South Korea Olympics next year.

NHL team owners have made it clear they don’t want to stop their season again for the Winter Games and put their stars at risk of injury. The reluctance has come up before and yet the NHL has participated in the Olympics since 1998. This time, however, there seems to be an impasse.

The head of the NHL Players Association, Donald Fehr, says the players want to participate and hopes the league will take advantage of the chance to market the game in Asia.

However, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says without “material change to the current status quo, NHL players will not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics.”

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MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set