By Mitch Phillips
(Reuters) - Two days after the Russian Athletics Federation (RUSAF) elected a new president, World Athletics (WA) suggested on Wednesday that there was a chink of light at the end of what has been a long, dark tunnel in terms of the country's return to the sport.
Russian athletics has been in turmoil since its federation was banned by WA in 2015 on the back of widespread doping. RUSAF paid a multi-million dollar fine in August to hold off a further suspension having made little progress along the "Road Map" for a return laid out by WA's Task Force.
However, Rune Andersen, the head of the Task Force who has repeatedly voiced his frustration at the failure of Russian officials to follow the necessary steps or show a change of culture, told WA's Council this week that his initial discussions with new RUSAF president Pyotr Ivanov had given him renewed hope.
"Over the last few months progress has been made and there is a new RUSAF leadership to put in place the plan," Andersen told a news conference, following an "open and constructive" call with Ivanov.
Andersen said a well-qualified international panel of experts have been appointed to work with RUSAF to draw up a detailed plan with clear objectives and timelines.
"The experts have already begun working and reported that the team have been very responsive and constructive in their approach," he added.
"The stage has therefore been set for the new president, if he puts the necessary commitment and resources behind the project, and wins the support of the necessary stakeholders, then the panel of experts are ready to help implement the reinstatement of RUSAF's membership of world athletics and the reintroduction of its athletes into international competition."
Andersen said that might be before the March 1 deadline of delivering a plan and that his organisation would consider it then if RUSAF delivers.
Should the impasse finally end it would open the door for Russians to compete at the 2021 world athletics championships in Eugene in the United States, and, potentially at next year's Tokyo Olympics should Russia succeed in its appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the country's blanket sporting ban for supplying doctored data to the World Anti-Doping Agency.
WA's Council also decided to undertake a thorough review of the situation in Belarus to weigh up the risks of holding the world race walking team championships in Minsk in 2022, or consider finding an alternative host.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)