10 Nov 2015

Support grows to ban Russia from Rio

7:14 pm on 10 November 2015

Leading New Zealand runner Nick Willis is joining Australia in calling for Russian athletes to be banned from the 2016 Olympics after an investigation uncovered widespread doping.

(L-R) Kenya's James Kiplagat Magut and New Zealand's Nick Willis compete in the heats the men's 1500m athletics event at Hampden Park during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland on August 1, 2014.

Nick Willis competing at the Commonwealth games in 2014. Photo: AFP

A commission set up by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found a "deeply rooted culture of cheating" in Russian athletics and recommended Russia be banned from the Rio games.

The commission also identified what it called systemic failures in the global governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF); its president, Sebastian Coe, will now ask Russia for a "please explain".

Athletics Australia head Phil Jones immediately called for Russia to be banned from Rio, saying there was not enough time for it to prove it's clean.

"We reiterate our absolute stance against doping in sport and implore the IAAF to take all actions necessary to deliver a level playing field for all athletes," Mr Jones said.

"Circumstances like those alleged in this report must not be allowed to continue."

Willis has first-hand knowledge of the effects of doping in sport; he initially won bronze in the 1500m at the Beijing Olympics before being promoted to silver when the original winner, Bahrain's Rashid Ramzi, tested positive for doping.

He said a ban was the ultimate outcome.

"Basically we need to say enough is enough, and we're not going to put up with that any more.

"If you're not going to be complicit with the WADA code then you have shape up or ship out.

"Now the question is, does WADA actually have the power over the Russian Federation to stop them competing. Ultimately it's going to be up to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and up to the IAAF."

But Willis admitted a ban could be hard on any clean athletes if, in fact, there were any given the investigation's finding athletes had little choice in what was done.

"It's a tough one because ... what if there is a handful of legitimate or genuine athletes there and then they're being punished for the sins of the rest," he said.

"But if it is so systematic and so widespread, perhaps there aren't any that have had a chance to really develop.

"The athletes, they're the perpetrators but they're not the ones who instigate this process."

Time for sport to clean up

Stuart Farquhar, who won silver in the javelin at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and is 12 times New Zealand national champion, said he believed doping by Russian athletes could have cost him places.

"I've always had suspicions personally from a few people ... and may have lost a few placings at major championships like the Olympics or the World Championships but that's just speculation," he said.

He "absolutely" backed the call to have them banned from Rio.

"I think it's definite, it needs to happen, otherwise the sport is going to be sitting on a knife edge the whole time.

"It needs to clean up a lot more and look towards the future a bit more."

But Athletics New Zealand chief executive Linda Hamersley said it was too soon to decide on a ban, and that Russia must be given a chance to respond to the IAAF's call to "please explain".

Only then should it be banned from Rio - if there was enough evidence to support that move, she said.

"At this point, I don't think we could sit here and say they should be banned.

"It's a big thing to do, to ban a country, because there will be clean athletes that are caught up in that, so I think there needs to be very careful consideration."

Ms Hamersley said she was fully confident there were no doping issues among New Zealand athletes.

Athletics New Zealand worked closely with Drugfree Sport New Zealand, which tested athletes in and out of competition.

"I'm as confident as anyone can be. I have every confidence in the processes that they have in place."

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said the allegations were groundless and insisted Russian athletics was clean.

"An attempt has been made to cast a shadow over all Russian sport. It is unacceptable and I can reassure you that Russian sport is today one of the leaders of world sport," he said.

"It is a leader in fighting doping and taking part in competitions, and we will continue this work."