''Don’t open the bottles, what if somebody pours Meldonium in''

Doping in athletics and restoration of the All-Russian Athletics Federation in IAAF shadowed the beginning of the Championships of Russia in Kazan

The sonorous and beautiful status of athletics as ''queen of sports'' was ''updated'' as one of the most scandalous sports a long time ago. This is why even such a positive and merry reason as the third Russian Athletic Championships in Kazan became a motive to discuss the latest problems in the restoration of the rights of the All-Russian Athletics Federation on the world stage and, of course, the doping issue. Realnoe Vremya's correspondent was present at the press conference, which opened the competition, and made the evening less languid. Realnoe Vremya tells who of the athletes is able to reach the upcoming European Championships, the fate of the ARAF and whether the federation fights for mass withdrawal of athletes from competitions during RUSADA's doping ''revision''.

''Don't open the bottles, what if somebody pours Meldonium in''

Functionaries of the All-Russian Athletic Federation gathered in front of the table 30 minutes to the beginning of the press conference where the national team's coach Yury Borzakovsky as well as President of the All-Russian Athletics Federation Dmitry Shlyakhtin, First Deputy Minister of Sport of the Republic of Tatarstan Khalil Shaikhutdinov and world champion Yekaterina Koneva were going to be. When one of the press secretaries of the local Directorate for Sports and Social Projects decided to open bottles with water for the speakers beforehand, the group of functionaries were startled: ''Why are you doing this?'' Then somebody said either jokingly or seriously: ''What if somebody pours Meldonium in''. Nevertheless, the open bottles were substituted for closed ones.

''I want to congratulate you all on the opening of the Championships of Russia, thank the Republic Tatarstan, it's always a hospitable city, I remember well how it was in the Universiade. And all big tournaments took place here, they always were different due to the special hospitality and goodwill,'' the federation's president Dmitry Shlyakhtin took the floor. ''It's pleasant to be in this city again, at the amazing stadium. I think the athletes will show amazing results, and we will find the team that will go to the European Championships.''

''I want to thank Mr Shlyakhtin for trusting these championships to Kazan,'' Khalil Shaikhutdinov replied. ''It's already the third championships in Kazan, we hosted the Championships of Russia in 2008 and 2014. We need such competitions very much after the euphoria of the World Cup because Tatarstan loves athletics. And I hope Tatarstan will be represented in the future.''

It's an independent organisation, they can be wherever they want. They are unlikely to be at the press conference, but I think they will be at the stadium

''Did the athletes pull out of the competition when they know RUSADA was present? It's an old story''

Realnoe Vremya's correspondent interrupted the flow of the lovely official narrative and switched to the most delicate and quite painful topic for Russian sport right after the ''welcome speeches''.

Mr Shlyakhtin, a scandal broke out in one of the junior competitions in Irkutsk last year. Athletes massively pulled out of the tournament when they knew a RUSADA commission with a doping problem came. Could you say whether something was done in this respect? And is there any danger that the situation can repeat in Kazan?

It was the championships in the Siberian region in Irkutsk in early January. Firstly, the story was a publicity stunt and exaggerated as a piece of information. 36 athletes didn't pull out of the competition, as it was said in the media. Actually, weather conditions didn't permit the mentioned athletes to be there. It's an old story. Nowadays RUSADA has already completed the investigation on this issue. All samples were negative,'' President of the All-Russian Athletics Federation Dmitry Shlyakhtin replied with some acrimony.

Will RUSADA be present in the competition?

It's an independent organisation, they can be wherever they want. They are unlikely to be at the press conference, but I think they will be at the stadium.

There will be an IAAF session soon. Do you think there will be any positive results to restore the ARAF's rights in the IAFF?

I carefully treat different forecasts. We daily chat with Rune Andersson and Jonathan Taylor, and we had quite an open talk at our last meeting. We're optimistically waiting for the July session. We try not to put pressure on the situation. But I hope for some progressive things. And the conditions that we need to solve – temporary suspension of coaches (while it must be at the legislative level), financial issues, investigation on Viktor Chegin, which RUSADA is to present now – we are solving them. Temporary suspension was the main problem, of course. They don't understand why they continued working being suspended. First of all, it referred to Chegin and Azarin. But we hope the session's results will be quite constructive.

32 athletes who are present here are real candidates. But the athletes must confirm their status. Apart from our selection, the athletes need to comply with the European quota

About specifics of the Championships of Russia in Kazan

The Championships of Russia in Kazan this year will have several specifics at once. Firstly, a series of leaders of Russian athletics miss this competition, as they took off to the Diamond League's Grand Prix. Secondly, the All-Russian Athletics Federation decided to unite the Championships of Russia with the end of the athletic season where athletes will be able to score necessary points.

''Indeed, not all leaders are participating here, some of then went to the Diamond League's Grand Prix,'' national team's coach Yury Borzakovsky took the floor. ''Katya Koneva and Lasitskene won't be participating here. While Markova goes to the Diamond League after competing here,'' said Borzakovsky.

Daria Klishina misses the rest of the year. Can you explain this? Is it an injury?

Yes, it was her and her coach's decision. Her major competition will be in the World Championships in Bochum. Now she's actively learning in the USA, with an easy training process. But the key competitions will be in 2019. But it's not an injury, it's a conscious decision to have a rest.

How many athletes approved by the IAAF do you think will be able to qualify and go the European Championships?

32 athletes who are present here are real candidates. But the athletes must confirm their status. Apart from our selection, the athletes need to comply with the European quota.

Are there any discoveries among the participants who can go to the upcoming European Championships?

There are, of course. It's Sofia Palkina and Polina Miler, of course. Yes, we put the main accent on the reserve. I'd keep these athletes till the 2020 Olympics.

About thirty Tatarstan athletes will be participating. How good are they? Whom will you point out?

I would point out Anna Krylova. But due to injuries, she didn't gain necessary shape in international competitions. I will also consider Rinas Akhmadeyev. Svetlana Logova, unfortunately, doesn't have IBU yet and can't go to the European Championships now.

Kazan is a wonderful city. It's not my first time here. I remember how it was in the Universiade, the atmosphere here is just cosmic. I remember we were sometimes caught by fans in the stands

About attendance

However praising adjectives the speakers used to describe the competition in Kazan and its organisational capabilities, the Russian Athletics Championships, which started almost a week after the WC ended in the capital of Tatarstan, seems to be unnoticed by citizens of Kazan. Posters aren't seen in the street, and the media didn't write about the competition.

Kazan is a wonderful city. It's not my first time here. I remember how it was in the Universiade, the atmosphere here is just cosmic. I remember we were sometimes caught by fans in the stands,'' 2013 World Championships silver medallist Yekaterina Koneva remembered. ''I hope many spectators and fans will come to the Russian Athletics Championships. It's always pleasant to compete when there are many screaming and supporting people. We will try to show high results for them.

Was there any job done to attract spectators? There is no information about the upcoming Championships of Russia in the street.

''We work on the spectators' programme. We will invite the nearest cities and camps. The population has been informed, we've worked with them. Fans of athletics will certainly come,'' Khalil Shaikhutdinov reported not in a very convincing way.

''I think you simply didn't see posters about athletics behind the bright and big poster of the FIFA WC,'' Dmitry Shlyakhtin decided to support his colleague at the press conference with a joke.

By Erik Dobrolyubov. Photo: mdms.tatarstan.ru
Tatarstan

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