Russia’s Olympic hopes hang in the balance

Russia’s hopes of sending all 387 competitors it has just selected for the Olympics hinge on what is being decided in a Swiss courtroom this week.

The court’s verdict is set to be announced on Thursday. We’ve outlined the main issues…

What is the court deciding and which court is it?

This is the Court of Arbitration for Sport, sport’s supreme court, and it is hearing an appeal from the Russian Olympic Committee and 68 individual Russian athletes against the International Association of Athletics Federations’ decision to ban the Russian track and field team from global competition and therefore the Olympics.

Why did the IAAF do that?

The World Anti-Doping Agency asked former president Dick Pound to investigate allegations of widespread doping in Russian athletics that had been reported in the British and German media. His report last November was explosive and resulted in bans for the Russian athletics federation, Russian anti-doping agency and Moscow drug-testing laboratory.

New IAAF president Lord Coe came down hard on Russia – a position that was unanimously upheld by his council last month.

Does that mean that there will be no Russians in the Olympic athletics competition?

No. The IAAF tried to defend itself against accusations of being “disproportionate” by leaving “a crack in the door” for Russians who could prove they had spotless anti-doping records, verified by credible agencies.

This effectively meant non-Russian agencies, as an IAAF task force decided Russia’s anti-doping system still could not be trusted, despite its complete overhaul. This view was supported by UK Anti-Doping, which has been overseeing drug-testing in Russia on behalf of WADA.

The upshot is that only two United States-based Russians have been cleared to compete in Rio’s athletics event – long jumper Darya Klishina and middle-distance runner (and doping whistle-blower) Yuliya Stepanova.

This is why so many Russians immediately appealed against their exclusion – with the ROC joining to make it a class action – and the likes of double Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva have been in court to argue their case.

Does this mean the rest of the Russian Olympic team is okay, then?

Again, no, because this week we have learned from another investigation that almost all Olympic and Paralympic sports in Russia have been part of a huge doping programme “directed, controlled and overseen” by the sports ministry.

This has prompted calls from a global alliance of anti-doping agencies, athletes and coaches to throw the entire Russian delegation out of the Olympics and Paralympics, bar whoever can come through an IAAF-style vetting process.

The IOC has said it is considering its legal options and will take into account Thursday’s CAS ruling.

This suggests that Olympic bosses are leaning towards ignoring the calls for a blanket ban, with all the recriminations that would bring from a sporting superpower, but will push the federations that run each sport to follow the IAAF’s lead, providing there is evidence of Russian cheating in their disciplines.

Weightlifting, for example, already has plenty of proof and is set to ban Russia, along with Belarus, Bulgaria and Kazakhstan. Sports such as canoeing, cycling and rowing are thought to be considering similar action.

So how many of the 387 Russians will be in Rio?

No idea but it is very, very unlikely there will be 387, and there will be a lot fewer officials than usual, as the IOC has already said it is not inviting anybody named in McLaren’s report or from Russia’s sports ministry.

Press Association Sport