Authorised Neutral Athletes given green light to begin competing again with qualification for the Olympic Games now possible

Up to 10 Russian athletes will be able to potentially compete at the Tokyo Olympics this summer after the World Athletics Council this week agreed to re-start the Authorised Neutral Athlete (ANA) scheme.

The programme, which allows a limited number of athletes who meet anti-doping criteria to take part in international competition, has been on hold for the past 12 months but has been re-activated with immediate effect.

The Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) generally has been banned since November 2015 following the revelations of state-sponsored doping. But a maximum of 10 athletes will be able to compete now under the ANA scheme and, if they compete at the Games, under a neutral flag.

READ MORE: Top Russians banned after major fraud

Rune Andersen, chair of the World Athletics’ Russia taskforce, says Russian athletes can apply for ANA status right away and that this is dependent on RusAF continuing to satisfy the requirements agreed for their eventual return to the sport. “The doping review board will start accepting applications for ANA status immediately,” he said.

Andersen added that RusAF is now following a roadmap which should eventually lead to its reinstatement. “But this is just the start,” he emphasised. “It won’t mean anything unless RusAF carefully and consistently completes all of the enormous work that is required to implement the plan and to put in place the enduring change in culture which Russian athletics so desperately needs.”

So there will be Russians at the Tokyo Olympics in the shape of ANA competitors but will there be any spectators?

When tackled on the topic on Thursday (March 18), World Athletics president Seb Coe said: “Of course I’d like the stadiums to have people in… and I hope a decision is not made too early. But the most important thing is to get the athletes to the Games.”

Elsewhere, Coe says the World Athletics’ health and science department is talking to European Athletics about the alarming number of coronavirus positives that have emerged since the European Indoor Championships in Poland.

There is clearly a concern over safety at upcoming summer season meetings. Coe says World Athletics oversaw around 600 events in 2020 despite Covid, but that number is expected to roughly double in 2021 if competitions return to something close to ‘normal’.

As for this year’s competitions so far, Coe says there were 25 indoor meetings involving 1400 athletes from 85 countries from January to March and that he “cannot remember a better indoor season”.

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