Russia’s track and field team banned from Olympics by IAAF for doping

Russia has been banned by the IAAF from competing in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Here's how we got to this point.
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The Russian track and field team has been banned from competing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after the country failed to reform its anti-doping policies.

International Association of Athletics Federations, track and field's world governing body, made the unanimous decision on Friday.

“There are detailed allegations, which are already partly substantiated, that the Russian authorities, far from supporting the anti-doping effort, have in fact orchestrated systematic doping and the covering up of adverse analytical findings,” the IAAF said in a statement. “The decision not to reinstate Russia means that Russian athletes remain ineligible under IAAF Rules to compete in International Competitions including the European Championships and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.”

The Russian Ministry of Sport issued the following statement:

“We are extremely disappointed by the IAAF's decision to uphold the ban on all of our track and field athletes, creating the unprecedented situation of a whole nation’s track and field athletes being banned from the Olympics. Clean athletes’s dreams are being destroyed because of reprehensible behavior of other athletes and officials. They have sacrificed years of their lives striving to compete at the Olympics and now that sacrifice looks to be wasted. We have done everything possible since the ban was first imposed to regain the trust of the international community. We have rebuilt out anti-doping institutions which are being led by respected international experts. Out athletes are being tested by the UK’s anti-doping agency, UKAD, and every one of them is undergoing a minimum of three tests in addition to the usual requirements. We have nothing to hide and feel we had met the IAAF’s conditions for re-entry. We now appeal to the members of the International Olympic Committee to not only consider the impact that our athletes’s exclusion will have on their dreams and the people of Russia, but also that the Olympics themselves will be diminished by their absence. The Games are supposed to be a source of unity, and we hope they remain as a way of bringing people together.”

The IAAF decision doesn’t fully close the door on Russians competing on the track in Rio. Next week, the International Olympic Committee will review the decision and, per the BBC, reportedly propose a compromise under which “demonstrably clean athletes” can compete at the Games, likely as an independent. 

“Any individual athlete who has made an extraordinary contribution to the fight against doping in sport should also be able to apply for such permission,” the IAAF said. “In particular, Yuliya Stepanova's case should be considered favorably.”

Russia’s track and field athletes have been suspended from international competition since Nov. 2015, when an independent report by WADA uncovered evidence of state-sponsored doping and cover-ups by athletes, coaches, agents and officials.

How We Got Here

At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia took home 13 golds and 33 overall medals. An investigation by the New York Times in May ‘16, however, revealed that many of those medals were tainted by performance-enhancing drugs.

Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, then the head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory, detailed to the Times the measures that were taken to cheat in Sochi. He said he would spend long nights switching as many as 100 urine samples for athletes to avoid getting caught using performance-enhancing drugs and would also give athletes a cocktail of anabolic steroids mixed with alcohol in order to improve recovery following competition.

Rodchenkov fled the country before confessing his role in the scandal. Two of his former anti-doping colleagues, who stayed in Russia, unexpectedly died in February.

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In Dec. 2014, German journalist Hajo Seppelt released a television documentary that showed testimonies by whistleblowers as well as video recordings that provided details of the doping regimens of athletes. Yuliya Stepanov, a Russian middle-distance runner turned whistleblower, and her husband Vitaly​, who used to work for the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, submitted videos, texts, emails and audio of how they were instructed to dope starting in ’07. Yuliya, who served a two-year ban for abnormalities in her biological passport starting in ’13, continues to train and looks to compete in Rio under the IOC flag to avoid the punishment facing Russia.

Last fall’s WADA report followed up on those allegations and the IAAF subsequently suspended Russia from international competition. A second WADA report tied the IAAF into the scandal as former IAAF president Lamine Diack was among those that allegedly took bribes to cover up positive tests. Several senior officials have been banned from the federation as a result of the revelations.

On Thursday, Papa Massata Diack, the ex-president’s son and former IAAF marketing consultant, denied involvement in the Russian cover-up but admitted he tried to delay the announcement of positive drug tests "to protect" the staging of the 2013 world championships in Moscow.

A New York Timesreport on Wednesday says WADA was first contacted in December 2012 by a Russian athlete who said she was willing to cooperate and share information on the state-sponsored doping in her country. The report was never followed up on.

The IAAF decision on Friday does not come as much of a surprise as WADA released a report on Wednesday that showed several signs of obstruction and evasion in drug-testing by Russian athletes and officials from November to May.

Wednesday’s WADA report also noted the extreme measures taken to prevent testing, which was highlighted by an athlete who tried to hide a container of clean urine in her body but failed by dropping it on the ground and then tried to bribe the doping control officer.

From Nov. 18, 2015 to May 5, 2016, 2,947 total tests were conducted by WADA, UK Anti-Doping and the IAAF on athletes across all sports, with 1,137 taken in-competition and 1,810 out-of-competition. United Kingdom Anti-Doping, which agreed to help Russia clean up its act, conducted 455 tests but 736 others were declined or canceled. The tests found 52 positive tests: 49 for Meldonium, one for Meldonium and Tuaminoheptane, one for Stanozolol and one for nandrolone.

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Re-testing of drug samples from the 2008 and ’12 Olympics in Beijing and London have also returned 55 positive tests, 22 of them from Russian athletes. The positives include medalists but most names have not yet been revealed. Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko said that all of the samples should be thrown out because some B-samples came back negative.

What Comes Next

In July, an IOC investigation is due to report findings about Russian doping in Sochi, which could lead to the entire Russian federation being banned from Rio. This would be a first. In an editorial written for USA Today Sports, IOC President Thomas Bach toyed with the idea of banning Russia under a “zero-tolerance” policy for doping.

The IOC could also allow a few clean athletes to compete. Yelena Isinbayeva, a two-time Olympic pole vault champion, has been among the Russian athletes pleading to compete in Brazil. She has threatened to file a lawsuit in international human rights court if the Russian track team is banned and she can not compete. On Wednesday, she wrote an op-ed for the Timesstating her case.

“This is a human rights violation,” she told TASS after the ruling. “I will not remain silent, I will take measures.”

If the Russian federation is banned, another option for Russian athletes would be to take cases to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The decision to ban Russia is also a warning shot by the IAAF. Countries like Kenya may now be watching their backs. Since 2012, more than 40 Kenyan athletes have tested positive for banned substances.