MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is making efforts to reform after its damaging doping scandal, according to the head of the IAAF taskforce set up to determine whether the country's ban from global track and field should be lifted.
"The Russians have recognized that there is an issue, a problem, and they are trying to fix it," Norwegian anti-doping expert Rune Andersen told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Russia was suspended by the IAAF — track and field's world governing body — from international competition, including the Olympics, in November after a report by a World Anti-Doping Agency panel detailed a state-sponsored doping program.
Andersen, who heads the five-person IAAF taskforce, held meetings Monday and Tuesday in Moscow with Russian government and sports officials. The Russian delegation was headed by Gennady Aleshin.
"There is an open and frank discussion," Andersen said. "There are no obstructions to what we're trying to do. Everyone wants to find solutions to the problems that Russian athletics has had today."
Andersen added that "several" more meetings are planned with "our Russian friends" before the taskforce reports back to the International Association of Athletics Federations in March.
In order for Russia to be readmitted in time for this year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the IAAF has said the country must investigate doping cases, remove any officials or coaches who were involved in drug use or cover-ups and establish "a strong anti-doping culture."
The Russian athletics federation is due to elect a new president Saturday as part of its own reform program. The front-runner is longtime general secretary Mikhail Butov, who also sits on the IAAF's ruling council.
"We have talked about the structure, that's part of the verification criteria, and of course that will be part of the discussion when we move on to this, but the new leadership of ARAF will be part of our discussion partners in the future," Andersen told the AP.
In a separate statement, the IAAF said the two sides discussed "the arrangements that are being put in place for the speedy resolution of pending doping cases" and the "thorough investigation" of issues raised in the WADA panel's report.
In addition, the talks covered "whereabouts" information and "rigorous testing" of Russian athletes, as well as other measures "to embed a new culture of zero tolerance for doping in Russian athletics."
"The taskforce has emphasized the need to demonstrate a recognition of current problems and a determination to effect real and lasting change in Russian athletics, and that has been recognized by Mr. Aleshin and his colleagues," Andersen said in the statement.
Aleshin said the Russians were committed to working with the taskforce and "moving forward to meet all the IAAF requirements."
In speaking to the AP, Andersen would not comment on whether Butov was a suitable candidate to lead ARAF despite having held a senior role at a time when many of the most serious accusations against the federation were made.
The elections end an 11-month tenure by acting president Vadim Zelichenok, who replaced longtime federation chief Valentin Balakhnichev last year. Balakhnichev was banned for life by the IAAF last week following allegations of involvement in a plot to extort money from athletes seeking to avoid doping bans.
Andersen refused to be drawn on whether the taskforce would visit the central Russian city of Saransk, home to a training center for race-walkers which has seen over 30 positive drug tests in recent years among its athletes, including several Olympic medalists.
The Russian athletics federation has been ordered to cease working with the center, where staff were accused in the WADA report of obstructing drug testing.