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Ukraine track and field federation offered secret bans for doping confessions

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MOSCOW (AP) — A plan to offer amnesty to Ukrainian track and field athletes who confess to doping has led to inquiries from the IAAF and World Anti-Doping Agency.

The Ukrainian Athletics Federation wrote on its website last week that athletes on the country’s national team using performance-enhancing drugs could serve very short bans in secret if they confess. Secret bans, however, would break IAAF rules.

“We’re informed. We’re in discussions with WADA and we’re seeking clarification from the Ukrainian federation,” IAAF spokesman Chris Turner told The Associated Press last week.

Ukraine, which has been stripped of three track medals from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, has a poor record on doping and conducts few drug tests by European standards.

The UAF website referred to a month-long amnesty period running until April 3. If athletes “voluntarily confess” to their own drug use, “the information will not be made public and the athlete will not face sanctions other than quarantine (temporary suspension from competition) for the period taken for traces of banned substances to leave the body.”

It can take only a few days for some banned steroids to leave the body. A standard doping ban under WADA rules is four years, which can be halved for a voluntary confession. Keeping offenders’ names secret breaks IAAF regulations, which demand “automatic publication” unless the athlete is a child.

The UAF also suggested there could be harsher punishment for athletes who didn’t confess and are caught later, since the lack of a confession would be an “aggravating circumstance.” That appears to breach WADA rules.

WADA has also said it has contacted Ukrainian authorities for clarification.

Ukraine’s repeated doping violations have seen it classed as in IAAF “critical care” — one step away from a Russia-style ban from international competition.

There have been conflicting responses about the amnesty offer from Ukrainian officials.

UAF vice president Fidel Timchenko told the AP in a recent interview that the statements on the website — since deleted — should have specified athletes would have to inform on other dopers, not just confess their own drug use. Providing “substantial assistance” to investigations can mean a potential ban is cut by up to 75 percent or even eliminated altogether in exceptional cases, under WADA rules.

Timchenko also said he didn’t consider the plan to be an amnesty, but his views didn’t appear to match statements made by UAF president Ihor Hotsul in an interview with Russia’s TASS news agency. Hotsul compared the initiative to a weapons amnesty run by police, and his interview didn’t mention any requirement for athletes to inform on others.

In a further twist, Timchenko told the AP that athletes who only confessed their own drug use might also be let off without punishment because they hadn’t failed a doping test.

“Words aren’t enough,” Timchenko said. “The main thing is a medical document, not a confession.”

The UAF wouldn’t say how many athletes have taken up its offer and has yet to contact WADA about the cases, Timchenko said.

WADA approval would be needed for any reduced sanctions for whistleblowers, under rules designed to prevent the system from being abused. Timchenko argued names could be kept secret for a time for whistleblowers’ safety, but the IAAF said all names would have to be published.

Timchenko combines his track federation duties with a role as head of the Ukrainian anti-doping agency’s disciplinary committee. He denied his dual role was a conflict of interest and said he wouldn’t rule on sanctions for track athletes.

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MORE: Russian track and field stars cleared to compete

Serena Williams eyes Australian Open return after pregnancy

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Serena Williams hopes to return from pregnancy (due date by the end of the summer) to defend her Australian Open title in January, according to Vogue.

“It’s the most outrageous plan,” Williams said, according to the report. “I just want to put that out there. That’s, like, three months after I give birth. I’m not walking anything back, but I’m just saying it’s pretty intense.”

Williams, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title last January and, two months later, said she played that event while about two months pregnant.

Williams, 35, is already the oldest Grand Slam women’s singles champion in the Open Era. That’s by virtue not of her 2017 Australian Open title but of her 2016 Wimbledon crown.

She hopes to pass Margaret Court‘s record of 24 Grand Slaim singles titles, though Court won the majority of her events before the Open Era began in 1968.

“In this game you can go dark fast,” Williams said, according to the report. “If I lose, and I lose again, it’s like, she’s done. Especially since I’m not 20 years old. I’ll tell you this much: I won’t win less. Either I win, or I don’t play.”

As for another Olympics?

“I can’t promise that … Tokyo 2020 is a lot,” Williams said on Japanese TV on Jan. 28 after winning the Australian Open, while knowing she was already, secretly, two months pregnant.

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MORE: Past two men’s champions out of U.S. Open

Vuelta a España TV, live stream schedule

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Less than a month after winning his fourth Tour de France, Chris Froome returns to headline the Vuelta a España, the final Grand Tour of the season, with daily live coverage on NBC Sports Gold’s Cycling Pass and the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.

Olympic Channel coverage will be live streamed on OlympicChannel.com, the Olympic Channel app, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

NBCSN will also air encore broadcasts of select stages.

NBC Sports Gold coverage will be commercial-free.

Froome, eyeing his first Tour of Spain win after a trio of runners-up, is joined by Spaniard Alberto Contador, who has won every Grand Tour multiple times and is set to retire after this event.

Rounding out the marquee men is 2014 Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali, who also captured the Vuelta back in 2010.

Romain Bardet and Fabio Aru, who challenged Froome at the Tour de France last month, are also in the Vuelta field.

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MORE: Olympic champion, Tour de France runner up fails drug test

Day Time (ET) Network Stage
Saturday, Aug. 19 11:25 a.m.-1:30 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 1
Saturday, Aug. 19 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 1
Sunday, Aug. 20 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 2
Sunday, Aug. 20 12-2 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 2
Monday, Aug. 21 7:10 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 3
Monday, Aug. 21 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 3
Monday, Aug. 21 12 p.m. NBCSN Stage 3
Tuesday, Aug. 22 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 4
Tuesday, Aug. 22 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 4
Wednesday, Aug. 23 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 5
Wednesday, Aug. 23 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 5
Thursday, Aug. 24 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 6
Thursday, Aug. 24 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 6
Friday, Aug. 25 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 7
Friday, Aug. 25 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 7
Friday, Aug. 25 5 p.m. NBCSN Stage 7
Saturday, Aug. 26 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 8
Saturday, Aug. 26 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 8
Sunday, Aug. 27 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 9
Sunday, Aug. 27 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 9
Tuesday, Aug. 29 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 10
Tuesday, Aug. 29 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 10
Tuesday, Aug. 29 6:30 p.m. NBCSN Stage 10
Wednesday, Aug. 30 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 11
Wednesday, Aug. 30 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 11
Thursday, Aug. 31 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 12
Thursday, Aug. 31 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 12
Thursday, Aug. 31 1 p.m. NBCSN Stage 12
Friday, Sept. 1 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 13
Friday, Sept. 1 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 13
Saturday, Sept. 2 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 14
Saturday, Sept. 2 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 14
Sunday, Sept. 3 7:45 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 15
Sunday, Sept. 3 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 15
Tuesday, Sept. 5 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 16
Tuesday, Sept. 5 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 16
Tuesday, Sept. 5 9 p.m. NBCSN Stage 16
Wednesday, Sept. 6 6:25 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 17
Wednesday, Sept. 6 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 17
Thursday, Sept. 7 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 18
Thursday, Sept. 7 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 18
Friday, Sept. 8 9 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 19
Friday, Sept. 8 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 19
Saturday, Sept. 9 8:15 a.m.-12 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 20
Saturday, Sept. 9 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 20
Sunday, Sept. 10 10:55 a.m.-3 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Stage 21
Sunday, Sept. 10 1-3 p.m. Olympic Channel Stage 21
Sunday, Sept. 10 7 p.m. NBCSN Stage 21