MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has set out a three-month road map to clean up its act, with the nation’s Olympic Committee spearheading efforts to ensure a doping scandal does not prevent honest athletes from competing at the 2016 Olympics.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) voted overwhelmingly on Friday to suspend the Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF) following allegations of widespread and state-sponsored doping.
The allegations, made by a special commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), have caused the country’s biggest sporting scandal in several decades and could cost it a place at next year’s Olympics in Rio.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said on Saturday he had agreed a road map with IAAF head Sebastian Coe and that his nation would soon be compliant with the association’s rules.
“In three months we will once again go to the international federation to present ourselves as compliant with its standards,” Mutko told Russian television. “We hope our team will be reinstated.”
Russia’s Olympic Committee said in a statement it would take charge of a program to reform the ARAF and Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), working with WADA and the IAAF.
“The Russian Olympic Committee is firmly convinced that honest athletes must participate in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” said committee head Alexander Zhukov.
“At the same time everyone who was involved in the use of illicit drugs, and contributed to it, should take full responsibility.”
Mutko said elections to replace almost the entire ARAF leadership would be held in the next two months.
Acting head Vadim Zelichenok was quick to announce he would not be standing, having earlier said he was prepared to step down to help his country recover from the doping scandal.
Russia is a superpower in world athletics and finished second behind the United States in the track and field medal table at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who on Friday called for the IAAF not to punish honest athletes over the doping scandal in her nation, is the world record holder as well as a double Olympic gold medalist and triple world champion.
Gymnasts Larisa Latynina and Nikolai Andrianov, who competed for the former Soviet Union, hold second and third places respectively on the list of all-time Olympic medal winners.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said he was sure clean Russian athletes would compete at the 2016 Games.
“We are confident the initiatives being proposed ... will ensure compliance as soon as possible,” he added in a statement.
President Vladimir Putin has used sporting successes to promote his image of Russia as a resurgent global power, portraying its hosting of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 as a symbol of a newly confident country.
With national pride at stake, some officials have looked to deflect attention from the IAAF suspension, saying doping is a deep-rooted problem in international sport and hinting that Russia might appeal against the ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne.
“The problem is not Russian athletics, it’s a global problem,” Mutko said. “What’s more, it started with Russia because we first informed WADA that the International Association of Athletics Federations hid samples for decades.”
ARAF general secretary Mikhail Butov told R-Sport: “If there is something that doesn’t satisfy us then there is sense in talking about an appeal. I am sure that Russia will go to the Olympic Games”.
Mutko and ARAF members will meet for emergency talks on Sunday, Tass news agency reported.
The IAAF council, hosted by Coe, voted 22-1 in favor of suspending Russia after a three-hour teleconference on Friday, an unprecedented punishment for doping offences.
In what some Russians see as a politically-motivated attack, Moscow will now be barred from hosting the world race walking and world junior championships next year.
“Our athletes have become hostages to what is going on in the world now and the global community’s attitude towards Russia,” a Moscow resident told Reuters TV.
Mutko said: ”These athletes who cheat should be punished but healthy sportsmen, clean sportsmen, must be protected.
The WADA report alleged systemic collusion between Russian athletes and the country’s anti-doping authorities fostered a deeply-rooted culture of drug cheating.
It recommended suspending Russia until a new framework was put in place.
“We will get the change we want and only then will Russian athletes return to international competition,” Coe told reporters on Friday.
The main athletics events in 2016 are the world indoor championships, the European championships and the Olympics.
The first competition to be affected by the ban will be the European cross-country championships in France in December.
Coe said it was “entirely up to the Russian federation” whether the country would be able to make the required changes in time to return for the Olympics.
“But we discussed and agreed that the whole system has failed the athletes,” he said. “Not just in Russia but around the world.”
Additional reporting by Olga Petrov; Editing by Clelia Oziel and Tony Jimenez