Who would’ve believed it? Five candidates were jostling in the hallway on Monday, November 30, before the election for the presidency of the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF). The ballot was set to be close. It was expected to be very uncertain. It was however completed in a single lap. And was awarded to a winner full of surprises.
Against all odds, the new president of Russian Athletics is the only candidate not to come from the seraglio. 50-year-old Peter Ivanov (pictured above) was previously known in the country as president of the Russian Triathlon Federation. He also holds the post of Managing Director of the Russian High Speed Train Company. But with a surprising game of musical chairs, rare in the rest of the international sports movement, he won the day.
Peter Ivanov won 56 votes in an election where 73 delegates were allowed to slip their ballots into the ballot box. He edged Mikhail Gusev, an athlete’s agent and manager, credited with only 10 votes, and former sprinter Irina Privalova, Olympic 400m hurdles champion at the Sydney 2000 Games, even further ahead (7 votes).
The other candidates? They surrendered before the fight had even started. Andrei Shlyapnikov, also a former national team sprinter in the days of the Soviet Union, stepped down in favor of Peter Ivanov. As for Oleg Kurbatov, the president of the Moscow Athletics Federation, presented as a serious contender for victory, he legally withdrew from the race, offering his alleged support to Irina Privalova.
Still suspended by World Athletics, the RusAF thus passes into the hands of an “intruder”. Good or bad news for athletes, still kept out of international events ? The sequence of events will respond. In the meantime, Peter Ivanov has announced that he will step down from his position as president of the Russian Triathlon Federation, which he has held for just over four years, as soon as next week.
Promising : the new strongman of Russian athletics is posing as the rally champion. Barely elected, he offered Irina Privalova a seat as first vice-president. “Despite the fact that we were opposed as candidates, we will work together”, he told TASS.
Irina Privalova agreed. She will sit on a presidium where, another sign of the will to unite expressed by Peter Ivanov, Mikhail Gusev will also have a seat. Three other big names in Russian athletics also enter the presidium : former pole vaulter Svetlana Abramova and Radion Gataullin, and the former combined events specialist Natalya Shubenkova, mother of Sergey Shubenkov, the world champion in the 110 m hurdles in 2015 .
For Peter Ivanov, the task promises to be immense. RusAF’s second president in just nine months (his predecessor, Yevgeny Yurchenko, was elected last February but resigned in July), he will have to put the federation on the financial front. And, at the same time, to convince World Athletics to finally lift the suspension of the RusAF, introduced in November 2015. Not easy.
Chance of the calendar : the Council of World Athletics must meet for two days, virtually, from this Tuesday, December 1. On the program of celebrations, yet another report of the working group on Russia, led by the Norwegian Rune Andersen.
There are no plans to make any decisions about RusAF’s short-term future, as the World Athletics Council has given it until March 1, 2021 to present a plan for reorganization. But Sebastian Coe and the rest of the forum will discuss a possible revival of the program for Russian athletes allowed to compete in international competitions under the guise of neutrality. With less than 250 days of the Tokyo Games, time is running out.