Banning Russia from next year's Rio Olympics would be a "serious loss" for the world of athletics, legendary high jump coach Yevgeny Zagorulko told AFP on Friday.
Russia could be cast into exile by world athletics chiefs who meet Friday determined to make a stand over "state-sponsored" doping with exclusion from the 2016 Olympics a potential long-term consequence for Moscow.
"I don't believe that Russia's athletics squad or all the more the whole country's team will be banned," Zagorulko, 73, told AFP.
Russia have been accused of widespread doping by an independent commission set up by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in a report which has shaken track and field, one of the Olympic Games' flagship attractions.
"It's only (WADA) recommendations. But if it happens it will be a great loss for the world of athletics," the Russian coach continued.
Zagorulko, who has coached Gennadi Avdeyenko, Yelena Yelesina, Andrei Silnov and Anna Chicherova to Olympic medals, believes the absence of Russian athletes would downgrade the level of the Games.
"Many athletes were deprived of a chance to compete at the Olympics in 1980 and 1984," he said.
"The reasons for their absence were different but the result was the same. The sports world suffered a serious loss."
Russia, accused of “state-sponsored” doping, have said they are ready to establish a new anti-doping agency hours before world athletics chiefs meet with exclusion from the 2016 Olympics a potential long-term consequence for Moscow.
Sebastian Coe, the recently-elected president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), will not be at the organisation’s headquarters in Monaco but will preside over a conference call of the body’s 26 members at around 1800GMT from London.
Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko told R-Sport news agency hours before the IAAF meeting that Moscow was ready to reform or “create a new anti-doping organisation” if the IAAF or the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) demanded it.
A simple majority is all that will be needed to confirm a suspension for Russia who were accused of widespread doping by an independent commission set up by WADA in a report which has shaken track and field, one of the Olympic Games’ flagship attractions.
The 335-page report also blasted Russian officials for blackmailing athletes to cover up positive tests as well as destroying test samples.
Although Russian officials are expected to offer an olive branch by admitting to some cases of cheating, the IAAF is under huge pressure to take strong action less than a year out from the Rio Olympics. Of the 26 members on the IAAF Council, nine are European.
“Europe will support Sebastian Coe. We have full confidence in him. We are all on the same page,” Svein Arne Hansen, the president of European Athletics, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
However, one leading IAAF council member, legendary Ukraine pole-vaulter Sergei Bubka who lost out to Coe in the race for the organisation’s top job, warned that it would be wrong to punish innocent athletes for the transgressions of others.
— Sputnik (@SputnikInt) November 12, 2015
“All those involved, officials, managers or coaches, must pay the price,” Bubka told the AIPS world sports journalists association.
“But ordinary athletes, those who have nothing to do with this matter, should not have to miss a single competition.”
The IAAF, he said, needed to live up to its responsibilities as an important player on the world sports stage but it must take it “case by case, person by person”.
On Thursday, Russia sent a formal reply to the allegations ahead of Friday’s meeting. Acting president of Russia’s athletics federation Vadim Zelichenok said that it had produced the response “in such a way as to try to prove our innocence”.
“How many pages is it? One or 100, it’s not important,” he added.
“Acting president of the Russian track federation told the AP he is ready to own up to some of the charges” https://t.co/XLnnZQJG5e
— Gerry Shih (@gerryshih) November 13, 2015
In another development, Russia’s Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov flew into Lausanne in Switzerland Thursday evening for talks with International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach, R-Sport reported.
The fallout from the WADA report’s damning conclusions reached as far up as Russian President Vladimir Putin who ordered officials to launch their own internal investigation and cooperate with international anti-doping authorities.
“We must do everything in Russia to rid ourselves of this problem,” said Putin, an avid sportsman who led Russia’s bid to host last year’s Winter Olympics and the 2018 football World Cup.
However, he added: “This problem does not exist only in Russia, but if our foreign colleagues have questions, we must answer them.”
Should an Olympic athletics ban be eventually imposed, Sports Minister Mutko rejected the notion of a Russia boycott of Rio 2016.
— POLITICO Europe (@POLITICOEurope) November 12, 2015
In quotes published by British newspaper The Guardian, Mutko said that even if Russia’s athletes are suspended, “we don’t plan to boycott anything, anywhere”.
The WADA-led commission said Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA’s doping control officers had “routinely” accepted bribes from athletes to ensure their doping tests would be found negative, among other damning findings.
The head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory resigned on Tuesday after the facility was suspended by WADA, the first scalp to be claimed by the scandal engulfing Russian athletics.
The crisis engulfing athletics comes hot on the heels of a massive corruption scandal at world football’s top body FIFA and as cycling is still recovering from the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.
Fears are growing that the scandal could widen to include other countries and other sports, as WADA suggested in its report
IOC President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday he expects track and field's world governing body to take "the necessary measures" against the Russian federation for its record on doping.
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