IOC’s Bach confident Russia will reform in time for Olympics

Vladimir Putin, Vitaly Mutko
FILE - In this May 16, 2011 file photo then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, is flanked by Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, left, as they visit a sports complex that is under construction for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, in Krasnodar, southern Russia. WADA's independent commission said Monday, Nov. 9, 2015 Russia's athletics federation should be suspended and its track and field athletes banned from competition until the country cleans up its act on doping. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Pool, file)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia could be back on the path to reinstatement for next year’s Olympic track and field competition after reaching an agreement with the IOC on anti-doping reforms.

A day after the IAAF voted to provisionally suspend Russia over its doping scandal, the International Olympic Committee produced a road map Saturday that it said should bring Russia’s track and field athletes back into the fold in time for the games in Rio de Janeiro in August.

“We are confident that the initiatives being proposed by the ROC, with the responsible international organizations, WADA and the IAAF, will ensure compliance as soon as possible in order to provide participation of the clean Russian athletes at the Olympic Games,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement.

Bach gave his backing to Russian Olympic Committee head Alexander Zhukov, who has been appointed to oversee reforms of Russia’s athletics federation, anti-doping agency and national drug test lab, all of which were implicated in a damning report issued Monday by an independent World Anti-Doping Agency panel.

The ROC “will coordinate all efforts in Russia to address the issues mentioned” in the WADA report, the IOC said, adding that all athletes, coaches and officials who are accused of involvement in doping must be punished.

“All doped athletes will be sanctioned. … All clean athletes will be protected,” the statement said.

The agreement between Bach and Zhukov follows a meeting between the two in Switzerland on Thursday, part of an intense lobbying effort by top Russian officials ever since the WADA panel’s report accused the country of running a vast state-sponsored doping program.

“The Russian Olympic Committee is determined that the clean athletes should compete in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” Zhukov said in the IOC statement. “Anyone found guilty of using illegal drugs or anyone who facilitated or was complicit in their use must be punished.”

Zhukov, who is also a senior Russian political figure and ally of President Vladimir Putin, said on the ROC website that he was “convinced that the ROC’s actions in this area will find support from the IOC, WADA and the IAAF leadership.”

After many Russian officials initially dismissed the WADA report as a politically motivated smear, Russia has become increasingly willing to offer reforms and admit past mistakes on doping, even as they continue to dispute key WADA claims, such as that the Russian security services infiltrated anti-doping operations.

Also Saturday, the Russian Sports Ministry announced an imminent clear-out of the leadership at the athletics federation.

The ministry promised “extensive changes” over the next three months at the federation, whose officials and coaches were accused in the WADA report of supplying top athletes with drugs and helping to conceal failed doping tests.

“Extraordinary elections will be held and the personnel in the managing bodies and coaching staff will be significantly renewed, and control of the national teams will be increased,” the ministry said on its website. Mutko is due to host a meeting of the federation’s ruling council Sunday at his ministry building in Moscow.

Among those on the way out of the federation is acting president Vadim Zelichenok, a veteran athletics official whose career dates back to the Soviet Union, and who was criticized in the WADA report for obstructing investigators. He told Russian agency R-Sport on Saturday that he did not plan to run in the new elections.

Zelichenok also said Russia is focused on finding “a rational compromise” to have its IAAF ban lifted but could appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if the IAAF “tells us clearly that it doesn’t accept any of our arguments,” in comments to the Tass agency.

He acknowledged, however, that lengthy court proceedings might actually reduce Russia’s hopes of having its ban lifted in time for the Olympics, which are just nine months away.

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