IOC to ‘explore legal options’ to potential Russian ban from Rio Olympics

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LONDON (AP) – With just over two weeks until the opening ceremony, Russia still doesn’t know whether its athletes – all or even some – will be competing in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It may all come down to the lawyers.

While the IOC decided Tuesday to ban from the Rio Games all Russian Sports Ministry officials and other administrators implicated in allegations of a state-run doping program, it delayed a ruling on whether to take the unprecedented step of barring the entire Russian Olympic team.

The International Olympic Committee said it “will explore the legal options with regard to a collective ban of all Russian athletes for the Olympic Games 2016 versus the rights to individual justice.”

The IOC has also said it could let individual international sports federations decide on whether to ban Russians from their events in Rio, just as the IAAF has done by ruling track and field athletes from the games. The 28 international federations that govern the individual sports at the summer games have made clear that they do not support a blanket ban,

The IOC’s legal options may become clearer after Thursday, when the highest court in sports will rule on an appeal by 68 Russian track and field athletes seeking to overturn their ban from the games.

Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva was among those arguing the Russian track and field team’s case Tuesday in Geneva at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Should the court rule Thursday in their favor, it would seemingly rule out the chance of the IOC imposing a blanket ban.

If the court upholds the IAAF’s exclusion of the track athletes, however, that would keep the possibility of a total ban in play. Further appeals are also possible, meaning that the final word on the Russians may go down to the wire before Aug. 5, when the Rio games open.

Still, it will take a major leap for the IOC to impose the ultimate sanction of kicking out Russia entirely. IOC President Thomas Bach has repeatedly called for a balance between “individual justice and collective punishment.”

No country as a whole has ever been barred from the games for doping, and Russia is a major force in the Olympic movement as well as a sports powerhouse. The last time Russia was missing from the Olympics was when it boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Games in retaliation for the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the doping allegations “a dangerous return to … letting politics interfere with sport.”

“The Olympic movement, which is a tremendous force for uniting humanity, once again could find itself on the brink of division,” he said in a statement Monday after the release of the report into Russian doping issued by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren.

The 15-member IOC executive board met by teleconference Tuesday to consider its moves following McLaren’s report.

The report, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, accused the Russian Sports Ministry, headed by Vitaly Mutko, of overseeing the doping of the country’s Olympic athletes on a scale larger than previous alleged. It said the ministry had help from Russia’s intelligence service, the FSB.

The investigation uncovered an alleged doping program that ensnared 28 sports, both summer and winter, and ran from 2011 to 2015. It found 312 positive tests that Russia’s deputy minister of sport directed lab workers not to report to WADA.

Mutko on Tuesday denied all wrongdoing and said he expected his subordinates to be cleared. But addressing the ban by the IOC of Russian sports administrators, he said he was ready to accept it because “we have always been guests at the Olympics,” and that the important issue was that the Russian Olympic team go to the games.

The summer sports federations prefer that doping allegations are handled on an individual basis.

The Association of Summer Olympic International Federation asked WADA “to immediately provide all the detailed information to the 20 international federations concerned so that they may begin processing the individual cases under their own separate rules and regulations as soon as possible, and in line with the WADA Code and the Olympic Charter.”

“It is important to focus on the need for individual justice in all these cases.”

Rather than applying a total ban, federations could suspend individual Russian sports. That already was the case with the IAAF ban on Russia’s track athletes from Rio following previous WADA-commissioned reports into Russian doping.

The summer association’s position falls in line with recent comments by Bach, who cited the need for balancing “individual justice and collective punishment.” He said last week that, if summer sports were implicated in the McLaren report, the federations would have to decide on the eligibility of Russians “on an individual basis.”

McLaren’s report also confirmed details of state-supported doping that subverted the testing at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. That included allegations by Moscow’s former lab director, Grigory Rodchenkov, that dirty urine samples of Russian athletes – including medalists – were swapped out for clean ones in covert middle-of-the-night operations at the Sochi lab.

WADA and its president, Craig Reedie, urged the IOC to consider a total ban on Russia. Reedie, who is also an IOC vice president, presented details of the McLaren report to the executive board Tuesday and answered questions about it, before Bach asked him to recuse himself from the meeting because of a “conflict of interest.”

While putting off a decision on banning Russia, the executive board announced a series of measures to punish Russian athletes and officials implicated in doping.

Among the sanctions, the IOC:

– said it will not organize “or give patronage” to any sports event or meetings in Russia, including plans to hold the European Games in the country in 2019.

– will launch retesting, including forensic analysis, of doping samples from the Sochi Games. It set up a commission to carry out a “full inquiry” into all of the Russian athletes who competed in Sochi, along with their coaches, officials and support staff.

– asked WADA to extend McLaren’s mandate to disclose the names of Russian athletes whose positive doping samples were covered up, and whose samples were manipulated in Sochi.

– called on all international winter sports federations to “freeze” their plans for holding major events in Russia, including world championships and World Cups, and seek alternative venues in other countries.

The IOC said the “provisional measures” would apply until Dec. 31, and be reviewed by the IOC that month.

MORE: Olympic sports federations do not endorse total Russian ban from Rio

Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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Mo Farah likely to retire this year

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British track legend Mo Farah will likely retire by the end of this year.

“I’m not going to go to the Olympics, and I think 2023 will probably be my last year,” the 39-year-old Farah said, according to multiple British media reports.

Farah, who swept the 5000m and 10,000m golds at the Olympics in 2012 and 2016, was announced Tuesday as part of the field for the London Marathon on April 23.

Last May, Farah reportedly said he believed his career on the track was over, but not the roads.

London might not be his last marathon. Farah also said that if, toward the end of this year, he was capable of being picked to run for Britain again, he would “never turn that down,” according to Tuesday’s reports.

It’s not clear if Farah was referencing the world track and field championships, which include a marathon and are in Budapest in August. Or selection for the 2024 British Olympic marathon team.

The fastest British male marathoner last year ran 2:10:46, ranking outside the top 300 in the world. Farah broke 2:10 in all five marathons that he’s finished, but he hasn’t run one since October 2019 (aside from pacing the 2020 London Marathon).

Farah withdrew four days before the last London Marathon on Oct. 2, citing a right hip injury.

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah’s best London Marathon finish in four starts was third place in 2018.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

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