— Published 24 March 2023

World Athletics reinstates Russia, but not its athletes

The parenthesis is closed. At last. But it does not yet change the course of history. Meeting this week for three days, the Council of the International Federation of Athletics (World Athletics) announced on Thursday, March 23, its decision to lift the suspension for doping of Russian athletics. But, at the same time, Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned from international competitions because of the military offensive in Ukraine.

One obstacle has been removed, therefore. Another remains. The Russian federation (RusAF) had been suspended since November 2015. Its exclusion lasted more than seven years, a record, preventing its athletes from participating under their colors in major events on the international calendar, including the World Championships and the Olympic Games.

But the end of the tunnel remains far away. Not surprisingly, the Council of World Athletics has extended the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions, decided in March 2022. The sanction will remain in place until “the foreseeable future“. It is accompanied by a ban on Russia and Belarus hosting “any international or European athletics event.” Their officials will be banned from attending, speaking and/or voting at World Athletics Congress meetings. The body also recommends that competition organizers, including Diamond League and Continental Tour meetings, apply the same measures.

The road to the Paris 2024 Games remains blocked for Russian athletes, while the qualification period has begun in some disciplines, including the marathon, walking and combined events.

For the RusAF, on the other hand, a new era has just opened. World Athletics said in a statement that its board approved the recommendation of the Russia task force to reinstate the federation “after meeting all the requirements of the reinstatement plan.”

But in an important clarification, World Athletics’ green light remains tinged with orange. While RusAF’s suspension has been lifted, it will have to comply with a series of 35 “special conditions“. These are supposed to ensure that anti-doping reforms “remain in place and continue to operate effectively.

RusAF will continue to be monitored very closely by World Athletics. A form of guardianship, in short, in areas as varied as governance, “protection from improper external influence and control,” operational capacity, budget and fiscal management.

These “special conditions” will be applied for a period of three years, with a review at the end of that period to determine whether or not it is necessary to continue them for another lease.

In addition, the task force headed by Rune Andersen has confirmed that RusAF has paid all the costs of the reintegration process up to the end of 2022. However, it will still have to pay World Athletics the expenses for the period from January to March 2023.

Another decision taken this week by the World Athletics Board: the exclusion of transgender athletes from the women’s category. A radical measure justified by Sebastian Coe, the president of the body, by a desire to “protect the female category.”

At the beginning of the year, World Athletics had hinted that it might tighten its rules on the participation of transgender athletes. In fact, it opted for a much more radical route, closing the door to competitions. Sebastian Coe explained this by a scientific void on the subject. “For many, the evidence that trans women do not retain an advantage over biological women is insufficient, said the Briton. They want more evidence. We need to know more right now. But we’re not saying no forever.

Intersex athletes, including South Africa’s Caster Semenya, remain allowed in international competitions. But the World Athletics board has further tightened the conditions for their participation in women’s events. From now on, they will have to maintain their testosterone level under the threshold of 2.5 nmol/L for 24 months, and not 5 nmol/L for 6 months.

But Sebastien Coe specified it: a transition period is proposed to the thirteen intersex athletes identified by World Athletics. They will have to lower their testosterone level for 6 months, this year, instead of the 24 months that will be required after this transitional phase.

Most importantly, the new rule adopted by the Council applies to all disciplines of athletics, not just to races from 400m to the mile. The change is significant. It will no longer leave the athletes concerned the option of changing distance to continue their sporting career without having to undergo hormone treatment.