Seven Russians Suspended for Obstructing Doping Investigation in Track

Seven Russians Suspended for Obstructing Doping Investigation in Track

The president of Russia’s track and field governing body was among seven people suspended on Thursday for obstructing an antidoping investigation, deepening a crisis for Russian sports that soon could see the country barred from next summer’s Tokyo Olympics and other major international sporting events.

The Athletics Integrity Unit, an independent investigative arm of track and field’s global governing body, which was recently renamed World Athletics, said it had charged the Russian federation president, Dmitri Shlyakhtin; four other officials; a coach; and an athlete with numerous offenses, including providing forged documents, false explanations and tampering with evidence in a case involving a Russian high jumper accused of failing to make himself available for drug testing.

The announcement, which was the culmination of a 15-month inquiry, came only weeks before the World Anti-Doping Agency is to decide whether to impose tough new penalties on Russian sports.

World Athletics has been one of the few international sports federations that have continued to take a hard line against Russia after the 2015 revelations of a massive state-backed doping program that for years corrupted a series of major sporting events. Since November 2015, Russia has been barred from international track and field events, including the last two world championships. Russian athletes can only appear in competitions as authorized neutrals, and only after vetting by antidoping experts.

A result has been a sort of track and field purgatory for Russian athletes. At last month’s world championships in Doha, Qatar, Russian competitors were not allowed to wear their national colors or hear their national anthem during the meet — a lingering sign of how their country’s systematic cheating scheme continues to cast a pall over international sports.

Thursday’s new suspensions raised the risk that Russia could have its longstanding suspension from World Athletics extended, or increased to a full expulsion from global track and field. In a statement, the Athletics Integrity Unit said the Russian federation had until Dec. 12 to offer a response. Any penalty will be decided by the governing council of World Athletics.

That group is meeting Friday, when it will receive an update from a separate Russia task force being led by the Norwegian antidoping specialist Rune Andersen. That group is likely to underline continued Russian intransigence in antidoping efforts, including revelations in September — confirmed by Russia’s top antidoping official — that a Moscow laboratory had manipulated thousands of athlete records in an attempt to cover up failed drug tests by athletes before providing the data to WADA investigators.

The integrity unit contended in Thursday’s announcement that data manipulation was at the heart of its case, which started as an investigation into the high jumper Danil Lysenko for a third so-called “whereabouts” failure in June last year.

“The A.I.U. investigated the veracity of the explanations provided by Danil Lysenko to explain his whereabouts failures and concluded that the explanations were false and supported by forged documents,” it said in a statement.

That led investigators to look into whether officials from the Russian athletics federation, known as RusAF, were complicit in devising Lysenko’s attempts to avoid punishment. A final decision was reached after interviewing 22 witnesses and analyzing the contents of hard drives and phone data, according to the investigative unit.

Thursday’s actions are expected to be only a precursor to far heavier punishment. WADA’s executive board was expected this week to receive a report into Russian antidoping compliance from a committee led by the British lawyer Jonathan Taylor. Taylor previously told The New York Times that Russia would need to “pull a rabbit out of the hat” to provide a credible explanation for manipulated drug-testing data that it had promised to share with WADA as a condition of ending a ban on Russia’s national antidoping agency.

The WADA board will meet on Dec. 9 to consider the recommendations in the report, which are almost certain to include a call for Russia to be deemed noncompliant again. That designation should see Russia barred from competing in or hosting international sporting events, including, but not limited to, the 2020 Olympics and European soccer championships.

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