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VIENNA/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Friday it was ready to do everything from a legal point of view to defend Russian athletes if they are banned from taking part in the Rio Olympics over doping allegations.
The Kremlin staked out its position as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) met in Vienna to rule on whether Russia had done enough for a ban on its athletes competing in international competitions to be overturned.
Russia was suspended from all track and field by the IAAF in November after an independent report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) revealed widespread state-sponsored doping. A task force has been studying how much reform Russia has made.
"Obviously, everything possible needed to defend the rights of our athletes and the Olympic team is being done and will be done at a legal level," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.
"But at the same time, there is comprehensive cooperation with the relevant international organizations and their divisions which is underway. This is a purposeful policy line ordered by the president of Russia – in anti-doping fighting and in investigating those known cases of suspected doping use," he said.
The vote by the IAAF should in theory be decisive but the International Olympic Committee (IOC), concerned about innocent athletes being punished, has said it might yet overrule when it meets the following week.
In an open letter to IAAF president Sebastian Coe, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Russia had met all the conditions asked of it, including overhauling its disgraced athletics association and introducing additional testing for athletes before the Rio Games.
"Clean athletes who have dedicated years of their lives to training and who never sought to gain unfair advantage through doping should not be punished for the past actions of other individuals," Mutko wrote.
"Additionally, Russia’s athletes must not be singled out as the only ones to be punished for a problem that is widely acknowledged to go far beyond our country’s borders."
But Russia's hopes of winning over doubters may have been dashed on Wednesday when WADA released another report containing extraordinary accounts of the lengths some athletes have gone to avoid being tested.
It said that Russian athletes have continued to fail drug tests in large numbers and obstruct doping control officers in the months when they are supposed to be showing there has been a change of culture in their approach to the problem.
"No one wants to see even one innocent athlete suffer in this, but such blatant disregard for the rules of our sport and the concept of fair play should receive a strong message that it will not be tolerated," British world marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe told Reuters on Thursday.
"Whether or not the IOC choose to punish and investigate further (since clearly this was never limited to track and field but rather all Russian sport) I feel the IAAF has to be strong on this," Radcliffe said in an email after the WADA report.
"The message needs to get out loud and clear - We will not tolerate cheats in our sport and will take strong action to protect the rights of the clean athletes to compete on a fair and level playing field."
Canada's athletics federation also urged a tough stand, saying that Russian track and field athletes should not be allowed to compete at Rio.
"Athletics Canada feels strongly there is little evidence of a reversal in a systematic and deep rooted doping culture in Russian Athletics, and therefore there is no justification to grant re-inclusion," chief executive Rob Guy said in an open letter to Coe.
Russia says it is being unfairly victimized, while other countries that have fallen foul of the WADA code, including distance running specialists Kenya and Ethiopia, are free to compete.
How the IAAF and IOC act most likely could be a defining moment in the fight against doping.
"My gut feeling is that some of the folks in the IOC bubble have no sense of the collective outrage if it makes the wrong decision," Dick Pound, a long-standing IOC member and co-author of the report that led to Russia's ban, told Reuters.
"It is not like we are talking about Sierra Leone here."
The IOC has called an Olympic Summit for June 21 in Lausanne to decide on Russia's participation, when other issues, such as claims of a complex system to beat the anti-doping system at the Sochi Winter Olympics, will also be on the table.
Additonal reporting by Gene Cherry and Jack Stubbs, Editing by Angus MacSwan