Russia should be banned from track and field, WADA panel says

Maria Savinova, Ekaterina Poistogova
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian track and field athletes could be banned from next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after a devastatingly critical report accused the country’s government of complicity in widespread doping and cover-ups.

The World Anti-Doping Agency commission set up to investigate doping in Russia said even the country’s intelligence service, the FSB, was involved, spying on Moscow’s anti-doping lab, including during last year’s Olympics in Sochi.

The commission chaired by Dick Pound recommended that WADA immediately declare the Russian athletics federation “non-compliant” with the global anti-doping code, and that the IAAF suspend the federation from competition.

“It’s worse than we thought,” Pound said. “It may be a residue of the old Soviet Union system.”

The IAAF responded immediately, saying it will consider sanctions against Russia, including a possible suspension of the athletics federation that would ban Russian track and field athletes from international competition, including the Olympics.

“If they are suspended — and it sounds like the IAAF is moving in that direction already — and they are still suspended, at the time of Rio there will be no Russian track and field athletes there,” Pound said in an interview with The Associated Press after the release of his commission’s findings.

He said Russia’s doping could be called state-sponsored.

“They would certainly have known,” he said of Russian officials.

To the AP, he added: “We have finally identified one of the major powers as being involved in this. It’s not just small countries or little pockets. This is a major sporting country. It’s got to be a huge embarrassment.”

The gold and bronze-medal winners at 800 meters at the London Olympics are among five Russian runners targeted for lifetime bans.

The commission recommended lifetime bans for Olympic champion Mariya Savinova-Farnosova and bronze medalist Ekaterina Poistogova.

South African Caster Semenya, she of the gender-testing controversy, took silver between the Russians in the 2012 Olympic 800m. American Alysia Montaño was fifth.

“I don’t have any medals in my hands still yet, but with the findings it looks promising, and I’m very, very hopeful,” Montaño said on Periscope, crossing her fingers during a nine-minute video. “Here’s to retribution and to justice being served.”

MORE: Read the full WADA report

Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, whose ministry was accused by the WADA probe of giving orders to cover up doping violations, insisted Russia’s problems are no worse than in other countries and said Russia is being persecuted, telling the Interfax news agency: “Whatever we do, everything is bad.”

He threatened to cut all government funding for anti-doping work, saying “if we have to close this whole system, we would be happy to” because “we will only save money.”

The acting president of the Russian athletics federation, Vadim Zelichenok, said he does not believe doping there is systematic or that the government or security services helped to cover up cases.

The WADA commission said the International Olympic Committee should not accept any entries from the Russian athletics federation until the body has been declared complaint with WADA’s doping code and a suspension has been lifted.

Pound said there may still be time for Russia to avoid the “nuclear weapon” of a ban from the Olympics, if it starts reforming immediately. That work that will take at least “several months” and “there are a lot of people who are going to have to walk the plank before this happens,” he said.

“I think they can do it. I hope they can,” he added.

More damaging revelations are to come. The WADA commission is also looking at the role senior officials at the IAAF allegedly played in bribery and extortion involving Russian athletes. French authorities last week detained and later charged former IAAF President Lamine Diack with corruption and money laundering. The WADA commission’s findings on that angle could come before the end of the year.

As it was, the WADA report on Monday said “widespread inaction” by the IAAF and Russian authorities allowed athletes suspected of doping to continue competing.

“(The) Olympic Games in London were, in a sense, sabotaged by the admission of athletes who should have not been competing, and could have been prevented from competing,” it said.

The commission accused the Russian state of complicity. It said its months-long probe found no written evidence of government involvement, but it added: “It would be naive in the extreme to conclude that activities on the scale discovered could have occurred without the explicit or tacit approval of Russian governmental authorities.”

The findings prompted a damning response from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that brought down Lance Armstrong, another case that shattered public faith in sports.

“If Russia has created an organized scheme of state-supported doping, then they have no business being allowed to compete on the world stage,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said.

The WADA probe found that agents from the FSB even infiltrated Russia’s anti-doping work at the Sochi Olympics. One witness told the inquiry that “in Sochi, we had some guys pretending to be engineers in the lab but actually they were from the federal security service.”

Staff at Russia’s anti-doping lab in Moscow believed their offices were bugged by the FSB and an FSB agent, thought to be Evgeniy Blotkin or Blokhin, regularly visited.

This was part of a wider pattern of “direct intimidation and interference by the Russian state with the Moscow laboratory operations,” the report said.

Pound said Mutko, the sports minister, must also have known.

“It was not possible for him to be unaware of it,” Pound said.

Mutko, who is also a FIFA executive committee member and leads the 2018 World Cup organizing committee, denied wrongdoing to the WADA inquiry panel, including knowledge of athletes being blackmailed and FSB intelligence agents interfering in lab work.

The WADA report also said Moscow testing laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov ordered 1,417 doping control samples to be destroyed to deny evidence for the inquiry.

It said Rodchenkov “personally instructed and authorized” the destruction of evidence three days before a WADA audit team arrived in Moscow last December.

The WADA panel said it wanted to send the Russian athletes’ samples to labs in other countries to detect banned drugs and doping methods.

The panel also raised suspicions that Russia may have has been using an obscure laboratory on the outskirts of Moscow to help cover up doping, possibly by pre-screening athletes’ samples and ditching those that test positive.

It said whistleblowers and confidential witnesses “corroborated that this second laboratory is involved in the destruction and the cover-up of what would otherwise be positive doping tests.”

The panel also said it does not believe that the doping problem is limited to athletics or to Russian sports. Pound singled out Kenya, saying it seems the East African powerhouse of long-distance running “has a real problem.”

“In its considered view,” the commission said, “Russia is not the only country, nor athletics the only sport, facing the problem of orchestrated doping.”

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Olympic flame to travel by sea for Paris 2024, welcomed by armada

Paris 2024 Olympic Torch Relay Marseille
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The Olympic flame will travel from Athens to Marseille by ship in spring 2024 to begin the France portion of the torch relay that ends in Paris on July 26, 2024.

The torch relay always begins in the ancient Olympic site of Olympia, Greece, where the sun’s rays light the flame. It will be passed by torch until it reaches Athens.

It will then cross the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Belem, a three-masted ship, “reminiscent of a true Homeric epic,” according to Paris 2024. It will arrive at the Old Port of Marseille, welcomed by an armada of boats.

Marseille is a former Greek colony and the oldest city in France. It will host sailing and some soccer matches during the Paris Olympics.

The full 2024 Olympic torch relay route will be unveiled in May.

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Paris 2024 Olympic Torch Relay Marseille
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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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