Rio Games

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Caroline Wozniacki wins appeal to participate in Rio Games

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LONDON (AP) — Former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki won her appeal Thursday for a spot in the tennis tournament at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, while 14-time major champion Rafael Nadal‘s status is still up in the air.

On the provisional Olympic entry list released by the International Tennis Federation, 2008 gold medalist Nadal’s participation is contingent on either making himself available for Spain’s Davis Cup matches in July or an ITF Olympic Committee appeal.

Nadal has been dealing with an injured left wrist that forced him to withdraw from the French Open before the third round and pull out of Wimbledon altogether.

Wozniacki already has been picked as Denmark’s flag-bearer for the Summer Games, but needed to appeal for a berth in the event, saying injuries prevented her from meeting the Fed Cup requirements.

She tweeted a photo of herself wearing a red top and standing on a red clay court, racket in hand, and wrote: “It’s been a long wait BUT I am officially going to Rio!! … rocking the Danish colors on court!!”

Wozniacki was ranked No. 1 for 67 weeks in 2010 and 2011, and she was the runner-up at the 2009 and 2014 U.S. Opens. She’s had a rough season, though, including a first-round loss at Wimbledon on Tuesday.

The top three men’s players in the world – No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia, 2012 gold medalist Andy Murray of Britain, and 2012 silver medalist Roger Federer of Switzerland – are all in the field for Rio, where the tennis competition begins on Aug. 6, the day after the opening ceremony. There are 64-player fields in singles, with a maximum of four per gender per country, and 32-team fields in doubles.

The tournament will be played on hard courts. The draws are Aug. 4.

Djokovic won the Australian Open in January, and the French Open in June, and so far is into the third round at Wimbledon. Should he wind up winning the title at the All England Club, he could head to Brazil with his bid intact to become the first man in history to complete a Golden Slam: collecting all four major championships plus a singles gold medal in the same year.

As expected, the U.S. tennis team is led by past gold medalists Serena and Venus Williams, who will both play singles and team up in doubles. The other women set to play singles for the United States are Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens, while CoCo Vandeweghe and Bethanie Mattek-Sands are in the doubles tournament.

The American men on the provisional list for singles include 589th-ranked Brian Baker, along with No. 27 Jack Sock, No. 29 Steve Johnson and No. 66 Denis Kudla. All four are, like Nadal, listed as having their participation contingent on either Davis Cup participation or a successful appeal.

Among the notable names on the ITF list Thursday are International Tennis Hall of Fame member Martina Hingis, who is slated to play doubles with Belinda Bencic for Switzerland and could play mixed doubles with 17-time major champion Federer.

Players already participating in singles or doubles in Rio can be nominated by their national Olympic committee for the 16-team mixed doubles event by the Aug. 9 deadline, with no more than two pairs per country.

MORE: Venus, Serena Wiliams lead U.S. Olympic tennis team

Questions and answers ahead of IAAF ruling on Russian ban

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LONDON (AP) — The credibility of the fight against doping in sports will be at stake Friday when track and field’s world governing body decides whether to uphold or lift its ban on Russian athletes ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Sports geopolitics – and the key issue of individual justice vs. collective punishment – frame the debate heading into the meeting of IAAF leaders in Vienna.

Even if the IAAF decides against a full reinstatement of the Russians, there could be pressure to find a way for individual athletes who have not been implicated in doping to be allowed to compete in Rio in August.

Friday’s ruling may not be the end of the story either.

The IOC has called a summit of sports leaders next Tuesday to consider the IAAF ruling, and a blanket ban on Russians athletes for Rio will likely lead to appeals and court challenges.

Some questions and answers ahead of Friday’s decision:

Why were the Russians suspended in the first place?
The IAAF imposed the indefinite suspension in November after a report by an independent World Anti-Doping Agency commission detailed widespread doping, corruption and cover-ups in Russian track and field. Subsequently, Russia’s anti-doping agency and drug-testing lab were also suspended by WADA. The IAAF gave Russia a long list of criteria to fulfill in order to be let back in. The IAAF ruled in March that the Russians had not done enough and gave them until June 17 to comply in time for Rio.

What’s the likely outcome? Will the ban stay or go?
All options are open, but signs are the IAAF is unlikely to cancel the ban, at least outright – especially after the release of a devastating WADA report Wednesday that laid out how Russian athletes and government agencies have continued to obstruct and deceive drug-testers. Among other things, the report said FSB security service personnel had intimidated testers, customs services had tampered with doping sample packages, and athletes evaded doping controls – including one who tried to give a fake urine sample using a “container inserted inside her body.”

Haven’t there been other allegations?
A slew of other developments have not helped Russia’s cause. Russians athletes provided 22 of the 55 positive doping samples detected in IOC retests from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping lab, alleged that he was involved in doping Russian athletes – including 15 medalists – ahead of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, and helped swap tainted urine samples for clean ones through a concealed hole in a wall at the Sochi lab. Violence by Russian soccer hooligans at the European Championship in France has further tarnished Russia’s overall public image.

What do the Russians say?
Russian officials insist that, since the ban was imposed in November, they have cleaned house, sanctioned guilty athletes and officials, and met all the IAAF verification criteria for reinstatement. In addition, Russian Olympic officials say they have taken extra steps by deciding not to take any athletes to Rio who have had prior doping offenses. “If the Russian team goes to the games in Rio, it will be a crystal clear team without the slightest shadow of any suspicion,” said Gennady Alyoshin, the Russian Olympic Committee’s point man on reforming the track and field federation.

Could there be a compromise?
Olympic and Russian officials have argued it would be unjust to ban the entire track and field team because it would punish those athletes who have not done anything wrong. Athletes, including two-time pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva, could mount legal challenges if they are kept out. A potential compromise – favored among top IOC leaders – would give Russian athletes with a proven clean doping record and who have passed a certain number or recent tests the chance to compete. Critics, however, say evidence of a corrupt, state-sponsored doping system is enough to exclude the whole team in order to protect the rest of the world’s clean athletes. Both viewpoints are likely to be aired Friday.

How will the decision be made?
An IAAF task force, headed by Norwegian anti-doping expert Rune Andersen, will present a report to the IAAF Council and recommend whether to keep or lift the ban. The council, headed by IAAF President Sebastian Coe, will then debate the issues. The delegates could hold a vote or make a decision unanimously. The council usually has 27 members, but the Russian and Kenyan delegates are suspended from the decision, so a maximum of 25 members will decide.

Could the IOC overrule the IAAF decision?
That seems unlikely. The IAAF controls the sport and the competition, including eligibility of athletes. If the IOC decided to alter the decision, it would undermine the system and Coe. “The IOC will have to decide whether the IAAF runs track and field or whether the IOC does,” longtime Canadian IOC member and former WADA president Dick Pound said. “If the IOC stepped in, it would be fraught with difficulty.”

What about banning the entire Russian Olympic team?
The IAAF is ruling only on the eligibility of track and field athletes. While some critics have called for Russia’s entire Olympic team to be excluded, there is no indication of that happening. However, if further allegations of state-backed doping across other Russian sports are proven, the issue will arise. No country has ever been thrown out of the Olympics for doping.

Could Russia boycott the games?
That would be the nuclear option. Conceivably, Russia could decide to pull out its entire Olympic team if its track athletes are banned. However, no Russian officials have publicly made that threat, and staging a boycott would jeopardize Russia’s status for all future Olympics.

Any other issues on the table Friday?
Yes. The council will rule on a petition by whistleblower Yulia Stepanova, a Russian middle-distance runner who herself was banned for doping in 2013. Now living in the United States, she wants to compete in the games, though not for Russia. The IAAF will also rule on whether Paralympic long jump champion Markus Rehm can compete in the Olympics. There has been no conclusive scientific findings on whether the German’s carbon-fiber prosthesis gives him an unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes.

MORE: Russia to learn Friday if track team can go to Rio Games

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