Moscow, January 30: Russia faces the threat of total expulsion from international athletics if charges relating to an anti-doping case are upheld against senior federation figures.
That was the stark warning issued on Wednesday (January 29) by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), which urged World Athletics to get tough if RusAF officials linked to the Danil Lysenko saga are shown to have been involved in anti-doping rule violations.
High-jumper Lysenko, a silver medallist at the 2017 World Championships, was competing as a neutral athlete following the suspension of RusAF when, in June 2018, he was notified of a third 'whereabouts' failure and served with a provisional suspension.
The AIU investigated the explanations provided by Lysenko, concluding the explanations were false and supported by forged documents, leading to charges against RusAF figures including president Dmitry Shlyakhtin and executive director Alexander Parkin, plus the athlete and his coach Evgeniy Zagorulko.
In all, seven individuals were charged, and RusAF was given until December 12 to respond, with that deadline later extended.
However, the AIU delivered a scathing verdict on RusAF's reaction to the charges on Wednesday, accusing it of trying to deflect blame and failing to demonstrate any accountability.
The AIU said in a statement: "The AIU board finds it regrettable that, in the face of clear and compelling evidence, RusAF has chosen not to admit to the acts and omissions of the employees, directors and representatives of RusAF for which it is liable under the anti-doping rules.
"In the AIU board's view, a responsible member federation in the circumstances would have admitted the charges and shown contrition for its conduct, but RusAF has chosen to do neither.
"Instead, RusAF has gone to great lengths to deny any involvement in the matter, blame others and attack the process. This approach is deeply concerning for the AIU board as it seems to indicate that the current leadership of the federation is merely a continuation of the former."
The AIU Board refers charges issued against RusAF in the Lysenko case to @WorldAthletics & recommends maintaining suspension of the Neutral Athletes process until the matter is determined &, if the charges are upheld, to consider the expulsion of RusAF. https://t.co/6YlhDEdAYx pic.twitter.com/PKYBYoUFgw— Athletics Integrity Unit (@aiu_athletics) January 29, 2020
Russia's situation could result in none of its track and field athletes being allowed to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where they are already unable to enter under the country's flag.
Until charges in the Lysenko case are resolved, the AIU recommended suspending the practice of allowing Russians who meet certain criteria to compete as neutral competitors.
Pointing to RusAF's "total lack of contrition for its conduct" and "the fact that the previous sanctions of World Athletics have apparently failed to deter RusAF from reoffending", the AIU said the World Athletics Council should "consider recommending to the World Athletics Congress that RusAF be expelled from membership".
Responding to the AIU declaration, World Athletics said Russia would consider the call for expulsion if RusAF continues to deny any fault and if the Court of Arbitration for Sport upholds the charges.
World Athletics - previously known as the IAAF - said it would write to the acting RusAF president and to Russia's sports minister warning of the potential consequences of "their current 'blanket denials' approach".
However, an olive branch will also be offered to Russia.
The letter will spell out that if the charges are admitted to the World Athletics Council, then RusAF would face sanctions but would avoid expulsion, while a new process to reinstate the suspended membership of RusAF would also be decided upon.
RusAF has been out in the cold since 2015.
Importantly, World Athletics also said it would "decide on a new process for Russian athletes to apply for 'authorised neutral athlete' status moving forward", meaning Tokyo 2020 may not close its doors entirely to competitors from the country.