KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS —- A political thunderclap reverberated over the Rio de Janeiro Olympics after the governing body of world athletics ordered an extension of Russia’s suspension from international track and field for flouting world sport’s anti-doping rules.

The 23-member council of the International Association of Athletics Federations, meeting in Vienna, rejected a plea from Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko that the country should be welcomed back into the international arena because it had cleaned up its act and that extending a suspension ordered last November would be unfair to their clean athletes.

Lord Sebastian Coe . . . in the eye of the storm

Instead the council appeared to prefer to believe a report from the World Anti-Doping Agency that its doping control officers had been persistently obstructed – and even on occasions threatened and intimidated – in trying to do their work as agreed with Mutko’s Ministry.

A Sports Ministry statement said it was “extremely disappointed [that] athletes’ dreams are being destroyed,” and indicating the intention of appealing to the International Olympic Committee to impose less stringent measures over the head of IAAF president Lord Sebastian Coe and his colleagues.

Reputational damage

The decision climaxed one of the worst weeks in image and reputational terms in the history of Russian sport, coming on top of the mayhem caused by hooligan gangs who followed the national football team to the European Championship finals in France.

Thomas Bach, German president of the IOC, has always sought to think and talk positively about creating a context in which Russian track and field athletes can compete in Rio.

However, in anticipation of today’s decision, the IOC had already convened an ‘Olympic summit’ in Lausanne next Tuesday whose stated purpose is to “co-ordinate and harmonise the approach among the International Federations, which take the first decision on the eligibility of athletes with respect to qualification for and participation in the Olympic Games.

“The discussion will have to address the difficult decision between collective responsibility and individual justice.”

The council decided that any Russian athletes who could prove they had been competing under an outside testing system could be permitted to compete in Rio under a neutral flag. This option was offered on legal advice to try to head off court trouble.

A tentative suggestion that proven clean Russian athletes should compete under the Olympic flag has already been rejected by both the Rssian Sports Ministry and by the likes of Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva. She had expressed the intention of appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if the ban were maintained on all Russian athletes.

Bach now faces the toughest test of his presidency in trying to find a diplomatic compromise which satisfies not only the Russians but the critical opposition lobby which has demanded that the old cliche of “zero tolerance on doping” should be shown to mean precisely that.