While the IOC prevaricates about the “dilemma” of banning Russian athletes from the 2024 Olympics, World Athletics boss Sebastian Coe has made it clear that as far as his sport is concerned they remain very much on the outside, twice-over.
IOC chief Thomas Bach said last week that a lengthy executive board debate resulted in the ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine remaining in place but that there were discussions about potentially allowing some individuals to take part as neutral athletes.
The Russian Athletics Federation has been banned from the sport since 2015 as a result of the country’s widespread doping and state-sponsored cover-up, though a number of athletes have been allowed to compete as neutrals if they can show a “clean record” that also disassociates them from the tainted system.
The IOC’s “sanctions” include the ban on any of their anthems, flags or national symbols and they will remain but they have now opened the door for the potential lifting of the blanket ban on athletes competing, which they term “protective measures”.
“Our position on Russian participation has been very clear from the outset,” Coe told reporters in an end of year address this week.
“All athletes, personnel and the whole entourage are excluded from World Athletics series of events for the foreseeable future because of the Ukraine situation.
“The IOC made very clear that the sanctions remain but for us it’s a slightly more complicated and nuanced landscape because of course we have the two streams of work running alongside each other.
“The IOC pretty much made it clear that it is for the Federations to evaluate the situation for their own sports and we will continue to protect the integrity of our sport.”
Last month WA’s Russia Task Force reported, not for the first time, that it had seen some evidence of “cultural change” and the sport’s Council will meet in March to yet again discuss whether enough steps along the “road map” have been taken to even consider a return in time for the 2024 Olympics, should the IOC ban be lifted.
“We now feel very much more comfortable about the nature of testing processes (in Russia),” Coe said. “Any decision will be taken in March but I don’t think it’s going to have a particularly big impact on the status of Russian and Belarus athletes, but particularly Russian athletes at this moment.”
On a more positive note, Coe said he feels his sport has emerged from COVID in good shape, citing almost 4,000 athletes from 180 countries competing in four world series events during 2022, when 261 national records were set.
He also said it was the first time for many years that Usain Bolt did not top the list of “most visible athletes” in terms of media coverage, despite the Jamaican sprinter retiring in 2017.
India’s Olympic champion javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra topped the list ahead of a trio of Jamaican female sprinters - Elaine Thompson-Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson, with Bolt coming in at an unaccustomed fifth place.
Bolt, the sport’s global superstar from 2008 until his retirement, has kept a relatively low-profile on the athletics front in the last five years, though Coe recognises he is very much in demand on a number of fronts.
“Any time Usain can give to the sport is hugely important and the more we can get the better, but his dance card is pretty full - he is busy,” he said.