Russians to compete as neutral athletes again in track


MONACO — Russian athletes in track and field will be allowed to compete internationally again under a neutral flag as their national federation edges closer to having its longstanding doping suspension lifted.

The World Athletics council voted to revive the “authorized neutral athlete” scheme, which can grant individual exemptions from the suspension after vetting the athlete’s drug-testing record.

“Russian athletes who can meet the specified criteria will be able to compete again on a neutral basis in international competitions,” said Rune Andersen, head of the World Athletics task force for Russia. As before, there will be a cap of 10 for the Olympics.

That paves the way for athletes like three-time high jump world champion Mariya Lasitskene and former hurdles world champion Sergei Shubenkov to return to the Diamond League circuit ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

Thursday’s decision comes after World Athletics approved RusAF’s road map for anti-doping reforms. It includes more drug testing for athletes and encourages whistleblowers to share what they know about drug use.

The plan also contains an admission of “an extensive doping and covering-up culture involving athletes, coaches and officials” which arose “from inheriting a post-Soviet doping culture aimed at winning by all means including doping.”

A different neutral athlete system will apply for the Olympics, where the International Olympic Committee sets the rules. All Russian athletes at the Tokyo Games will compete for “ROC,” or Russian Olympic Committee. That comes after the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled against Russia in December in a separate case about falsified data from the Moscow anti-doping laboratory.

The Russian track federation, known as RusAF, has been suspended since 2015 after investigations revealed doping was rife among elite Russian athletes.

For much of that time, individual Russians were allowed to compete internationally with neutral status, without their country’s flag or anthem. That system was suspended after five senior RusAF officials were charged in 2019 with using forged documents to give one of the world’s top high jumpers, Danil Lysenko, an excuse for being unavailable for drug testing.

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