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15 Mar, 2022 14:12

Russian athletes issue ultimatum over ‘political bias’

The athletes accuse governing body World Athletics of violating its own charter
Russian athletes issue ultimatum over ‘political bias’

Dozens of Russian athletes have penned a letter to the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) demanding that it delivers an ultimatum to World Athletics over them being allowed to compete in the 2022 season.

Following an International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommendation, World Athletics banned "all athletes, support personnel and officials from Russia and Belarus" from "all World Athletics Series events for the foreseeable future with immediate effect" as a reaction to Russia's military operation in Ukraine. 

In response to the development, at least 44 Russian athletes have demanded that RusAF contacts the global governing body to ensure they are reinstated. 

"We ask you to send to the President of World Athletics Sebastian Coe the position of the Russian side that by depriving our athletes to compete in the international season of 2022 (one-day tournaments and official tournaments), the organization violates the provisions of its own Charter," read the letter seen by Match TV.

"We urge WA [World Athletics] to act within the framework of the Charter, eliminating bias and any political bias in decision-making," the letter continued.

If RusAF hasn't "received guarantees of admission to the summer international season for athletes with current ANA (Authorized Neutral Athlete) status" by March 18, the athletes request that the Russian body suspends any payments and cooperation, and launches an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) to "protect the rights of the federation and Russian athletes".

"We believe that by violating its own Charter now, WA casts doubt on the transparency of the process of restoring RusAF, as it can repeat these actions in the future," the letter concluded.

RusAF had already been suspended by World Athletics since 2015 after allegations of state-sponsored doping. 

This means that Russia is not allowed to host World Athletics events nor send teams to international competitions, which resulted in its athletes performing under the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) banner at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics last summer and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics this year. 

The Authorized Neutral Athlete process the athletes referenced in their letter is still in place, but Russian athletes are now excluded from World Athletics Series events moving forward.

That means they cannot take part in the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22 from March 18-20, even if already accredited, and the World Athletics Championships Oregon 22 in mid-July.

"Anyone who knows me will understand that imposing sanctions on athletes because of the actions of their government goes against the grain," said World Athletics president Sebastian Coe when the new measures were announced.

"I have railed against the practice of politicians targeting athletes and sport to make political points when other sectors continue about their business. [But] this is different as governments, business and other international organizations have imposed sanctions and measures against Russia across all sectors," Coe added, concluding that World Athletics "cannot and should not sit this one out."

In a video conference call on Tuesday, Coe further noted that there is "not a single sports federation out there that naturally wants to exclude teams or individuals, but this situation was different."

"We absolutely accept that this will set precedents and those precedents will have to be faced individually and sequentially and they will be with us for years," Coe continued, the AP reported. "We haven't made this easy on ourselves but it is still the right decision."

The sweeping bans placed on Russian and Belarusian athletes across a host of sports follows recommendations by the IOC that they should not be invited to competitions wherever possible, after Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine. 

Russian officials and organizations have denounced the bans as discriminatory and undermining the principle that sport should be outside politics.  

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