Athletics-'Guarded optimism' from ruling body as Russia edges towards return

LONDON (Reuters) - Russia's return to international athletics edged closer on Wednesday when the head of the World Athletics Task Force declared his "guarded optimism" about progress being made by the country's federation six years after it was banned.

RUSAF was thrown out in 2015 after the revelation of widespread state-sponsored doping and extensive cover-ups and it has been a long and painful path since, with the investigative Task Force headed by Norwegian Rune Anderson repeatedly frustrated by the country's intransigence.

However, after several changes of personnel and reorganisations, RUSAF is slowly ticking off a list of conditions for a return.

Rune told a news conference on Wednesday that he had reported back to the sport's governing Council.

"Based on the progress of the work being conducted by RUSAF, the Task Force and the international experts, our view is one of guarded optimism," he said.

"RUSAF is making steady progress towards meeting the conditions set for its reinstatement. The key milestones have been met as well as the key performance indicators set out in the plan."

Rune said there were still concerns about out of competition testing and coaches who have trained doped athletes still having involvement in the sport, but said the Task Force was working on a detailed series of measures for once RUSAF is reinstated.

"These are designed to give Council and member federations comfort that progress towards a genuine change in culture will continue in Russia after reinstatement and that there will be no backsliding," he said.

As a result of the positive progress, the Task Force has recommended an increase in the quota of "Authorised Neutral Athletes" who can compete in major championships next year, including the World Championships in Oregon, to 20, from the current 10.

The sport's next major global event is the world indoor championships in Belgrade in March and World Athletics (WA) President Sebastian Coe said it was too early to assess potential impact from travel restrictions caused by the new coronavirus variant.

"Our health and science teams will of course be across this ... but at this moment we will obviously work very closely with all our local organising committees," he said.

WA CEO John Ridgeon said the organisation would benefit from having held major events over the last two years.

"We staged the world half-marathon championships and world relays in Poland and the world Under-20s in Nairobi and we're experienced now in enabling teams around the world to attend a championships and create all the COVID protocols around that," Ridgeon said.

The Council also confirmed that Glasgow will host the 2024 world indoor championships and Lima the 2021 world Under-20s championships.

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)

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