Russia to learn Friday if track team can go to Rio Games amid doping allegations

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(AP) — Russia will learn on Friday if its track and field athletes will be allowed to compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, as more damning evidence of doping irregularities pour in.

The latest World Anti-Doping Agency report on the obstruction of drug-testing in Russia came shortly before the sport’s governing body, the IAAF, meets in Vienna to decide whether to admit Russia’s athletes to the Olympics.

Russia’s track and field athletes have been suspended from international competition since November, after a report by an independent WADA panel alleged a widespread, state-backed doping system.

Russia has insisted that it has abided by all international requests to clean up its program and that its athletes should be allowed to compete in Rio.

Even if the IAAF decides not to lift the ban completely, it could consider a compromise that allows individual Russian athletes to go to Rio if they have not been implicated in doping and have demonstrated they are clean.

The International Olympic Committee has scheduled a summit of sports leaders next Tuesday to consider “the difficult decision between collective responsibility and individual justice.”

If Russia’s athletes are banned from Rio, it would be the first time such a large number of athletes from one country are prevented from competing at the Olympics because of doping. Russia would normally enter a team of around 200 track athletes for the games.

Bulgarian weightlifters have already been banned from Rio by the international federation because of doping, but their number is small compared to the Russian track team.

Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva is among the Russian athletes hoping to compete in Rio. She has threatened to go to court on human rights grounds if excluded from the games. Other cases could end up in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“The fraud of dishonest people should not jeopardize the careers of the other innocent fellow athletes and throw a stand on our country’s reputation,” a group of 13 Russian Olympic athletes said in an open letter to IOC President Thomas Bach.

Many athlete groups outside Russia have called on the IAAF to take a hard line, citing a loss of faith in the entire drug-testing system.

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart has been among the most outspoken officials demanding the Russians be kept out.

“The games are at their best when there is universal inclusion, but that inclusion can’t come at the expense of clean athletes,” Tygart said. “It’s why we have stood with a broad coalition of those who value clean sport in the position that Russian track and field should not be allowed to participate in the games.”

Former WADA president Dick Pound, whose report led to Russia’s suspension, said he saw little reason for the ban to be lifted.

“I don’t think it’s an easy case to make that all should be forgiven,” he told The Associated Press. “A lot of credibility is at stake for the Russians, the IAAF and the IOC. If you’re convinced it’s a state administered system, your athletes have to pay the price for that. There is no reason athletes around the world should be put at risk. If it’s tough love, it’s tough love.”

The IAAF council, chaired by IAAF President Sebastian Coe, will make its decision after receiving a recommendation from a five-person task force, headed by Norway’s Rune Andersen, that has been monitoring Russia’s reform efforts.

“My guess is that Seb and Thomas (Bach) are under considerable pressure to find some kind of formula that lets Russia in, and that opinion among various constituents is very much divided,” Pound said.

A suspension would be a huge blow to Russia’s reputation and aspiration of maintaining its status as a world power in Olympic sports, and would tarnish its image even more as it prepares to host the next soccer World Cup in 2018.

The latest WADA report, issued Wednesday, alleged that Russian athletes and government agencies continued to obstruct and deceive drug testers. It said testers were intimidated by officials from Russia’s FSB security service and that packages containing samples have been tampered with by Russian customs services.

The original WADA report in November came after a documentary by Germany’s ARD broadcaster in December 2014 first spoke of a state-run doping system, based on revelations by Yulia Stepanova, a middle-distance runner who herself was banned for doping in 2013, and her husband Vitaly, a former official in the Russian anti-doping agency.

The IAAF will also rule Friday on a request by Stepanova to be allowed to compete in Rio, though not for Russia.

In May, Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow drug-testing lab now living in Los Angeles, revealed details of Russian doping in an interview with the New York Times. Rodchenkov said he personally switched tainted urine samples for clean ones at the doping lab used for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, with help from people he believed to be officers of the Russian security services.

Russia has dismissed Rodchenkov’s account, with the sports ministry saying that Rodchenkov was fired from the anti-doping lab in Moscow when authorities found out that he “was cheating the anti-doping community.”

Meanwhile, the IOC has reported 55 positive findings in retesting of stored samples from the 2008 Beijing Games and 2012 London Olympics. The Russian Olympic Committee has said 22 of the cases involved Russian athletes, including medalists.

MORE: Russian athletes, state accused of obstructing drug tests

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini

Elena Fanchini, an Italian Alpine skier whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini, the 2005 World downhill silver medalist at age 19, passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in the combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her World Cup win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won her world downhill silver medal in Italy in 2005, exactly one month after her World Cup debut, an astonishing breakout.

Ten months later, she won a World Cup downhill in Canada with “Ciao Mamma” scribbled on face tape to guard against 1-degree temperatures. She was 20. Nobody younger than 21 has won a World Cup downhill since. Her second and final World Cup win, also a downhill, came more than nine years later.

In between her two World Cup wins, Fanchini raced at three Olympics with a best finish of 12th in the downhill in 2014. She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

USA Boxing

USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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