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Doping scandal: Russian sport is running out of road

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The All-Russia Athletic Federation's annual meeting doesn't generally attract a great deal of attention - but this year's edition, held at Moscow's Soviet-era 'Aerostar Hotel', was somewhat different, reported Sky News (by John Sparks).

It just happened to be held on the same day Richard McLaren released his bombshell report into doping in Russian sport.

Perhaps that is why there was a small army of journalists and cameraman in place, ready to cover a conference charged with electing a president and reviewing the rules and regulations.

Still, after two years of explosive allegations, systematic cheating in Russian sport hung like fog over this event.

Federation members are certainly familiar with the issue - virtually every member of Russia's athletics team was banned from competition at the Rio Olympic Games.

Amongst those prohibited from competing, the country's most celebrated sports star - double gold medallist pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva - who had star billing at Friday's meeting.

"I would like to make sure that people across the world understand we really are interested in clean Russian sport," said Isinbayeva, who recently took up a new role on the body that will supervise Russia's disgraced anti-doping agency.

"I am sure we'll be able to resolve these issues in the nearest future. We'll get the (anti-doping) agency's licence back," she added reassuringly.

"Our athletes will be performing again and tested on a regular basis. Maybe even more frequently than before."

She may well be guilty of over-optimism. By late afternoon, detailed evidence from McLaren's investigation was cascading onto the phones and lap-tops of journalists at the 'Aerostar Hotel'.

The crucial, organising role played by the Russian government was highlighted at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where officials and secret service agents swapped positive urine-samples with negative (or clean) samples through a small hole in the laboratory wall.

Still members of the Russian journalists seemed unmoved by it all. Alexey Fomin, from the state-run 'Izvestiya' newspaper, told us: "McLaren didn't say anything new.

"He just increased the harshness of the rhetoric, but the core of it remained the same. I don't think that the situation has changed in any way."

The tenor of those remarks were echoed widely today - many people believe 'the west' is only out to blacken Russia's name.

Dmitry Svishchev, the head of the country's curling federation said: "We haven't heard anything new - (they are) unfounded accusations against us all. If you are Russian, they accuse you of all sins."

However, the newly re-elected All-Russia Athletics Federation president, Dmitry Shlyahtin, who popped up at the very end of the meeting, uttered what were probably the most conciliatory words from a Russian sports administrator in the past 12 months.

"We agree that we have problems in Russian track and field. We are not hiding this and we are trying our best to eliminate these problems from the athletics family. But this process didn't start yesterday.

"I think those things that we have done in the period after we got banned has proved that we can do reforms."

Such remarks will be greeted with scepticism worldwide - but Russian sport is running out of road.

With the International Olympic Committee now forming two commissions to consider further sanctions, the sports administrators and athletes will have to reform if they really want to compete.


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