Russia's Olympic Track Team To Learn Whether It May Compete In Rio

Jun 17, 2016
Originally published on June 17, 2016 5:01 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

After being suspended seven months ago for doping, Russia's track and field athletes are getting the word today. They are banned from international competition. That decision, by the international body that regulates track and field sports, will keep them from taking part in the Rio Olympics. The regulators said Russia - or will say Russia has not met the standards that would allow its program to be reinstated. Russia is currently in the midst of a doping scandal, accused of widespread state-sponsored cheating with performance-enhancing drugs. And NPR's Corey Flintoff joins us now from Moscow. Good morning.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, what is the deal? It is right in the process of being announced today officially?

FLINTOFF: Well, yes, it was supposed to be announced at a news conference in Vienna about 45 minutes ago. That has not started. And this may just show what a complicated and controversial decision this is. We're basing this on the fact that the Russian news media are reporting that Russia's athletic federation has been told that the ban will stay in place.

MONTAGNE: Well, OK, so obviously this means a lot to the Russians. But after that, you know, the first report came out about these particular athletes - right? - Russian officials promised to clean up their act. And then, really they didn't, did they?

FLINTOFF: No, absolutely. The Russians were given some conditions that they were going to have to meet if they wanted to be reinstated. And that included allowing, you know, transparent, independent drug testing of Russian athletes. But what the IAAF has apparently decided is that that hasn't been done.

MONTAGNE: And what does that mean exactly - hasn't been done?

FLINTOFF: Well, after that first report came out, Russian officials promised that they were going to clean up their act. International monitors have been checking Russia's progress since then. And in fact, the Russians did do some things. They fired a number of top officials in their anti-doping program. One of them even fled the country to the United States where he's been making what are even more explosive accusations about state involvement in doping.

But in the meantime, the World Anti-Doping Agency just came out with another report, came out this week. And that report said that some Russian athletes and officials are continuing to evade drug testing. They're continuing to refuse to take the test. Other athletes who did take the test failed. And the monitors even said they were intimidated by officials from the Russian security services. So a lot of the news that's come out recently has been pretty negative.

MONTAGNE: Well, from President Putin on down, there has been an argument made by Russians saying that the collective punishment for individual wrongdoing is wrong - that is to say, the clean athletes should be able to compete.

FLINTOFF: Yeah, that's been the argument pretty much from the Russian government. And Putin repeated it just today in a news conference. But, you know, elite athletes from other countries, including the United States, are saying, look. This is - the really explosive accusation here is that the Russian government was running a systematic doping program. So, you know, if the Russian system is corrupt and the Russian government is not doing anything about it then the whole system has to be held to account. And they're saying the only way to do that is to ban this entire team.

MONTAGNE: OK, kind of yes or no, not the final decision, right?

FLINTOFF: No, in fact, there's going to be a meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland on Tuesday. And it's possible the IOC could overturn this ban. And based on what some IOC members have been saying they're pretty sympathetic to the argument about not hurting clean athletes. The Russians are also saying they've been demonized and singled out. And other countries are also implicated in doping.

MONTAGNE: OK, NPR's Corey Flintoff. Thank you very much. He joined us from Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.