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Russian doping: athletics body appoints anti-crisis chief

Russia's Athletics Federation (ARAF) newly-elected president Dmitry Shlyakhtin leaves after a news conference following a meeting held to hear reports and elect new officials of ARAF in Moscow, Russia, January 16, 2016
Russia's Athletics Federation (ARAF) newly-elected president Dmitry Shlyakhtin leaves after a news conference following a meeting held to hear reports and elect new officials of ARAF in Moscow, Russia, January 16, 2016 REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Russia's embattled athletics body on Saturday elected a new "anti-crisis" president, regional sports bureaucrat Dmitry Shlyakhtin. The relatively unknown figure has a tough job ahead of him in salvaging the country's reputation after damning allegations of state-backed corruption ahead of the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

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"In this difficult period for Russian athletics, my task is simple, to return the federation to the international level, to reinstate trust of IAAF and Wada, to give our athletes the opportunity to compete in international events," Dmitry Shlyakhtin told journalists on Saturday.

Two days beforehand, the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) issued another damning report against the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), almost as damaging as the previous one, accusing the IAAF's former chief of covering up organised doping in Russia and blackmailing athletes and senior officials to turn a blind eye.

Given the uphill battle Moscow is facing to clear its name ahead of the Rio Olympics, few risked competing for the job, giving Shlyakhtin a unanimous win after two candidates pulled out.

Russia is trying to carve a way for itself back into athletics after being banned from all sporting events in November when Wada delivered its first report, accusing it then of state-sponsored doping, accusations vehemently denied by Russian Olympic Chief Alexander Zhukov; who has also thrown out the latest claims, saying they "lacked objectivity".

"We must solve all of these problems quickly," Shlyakhtin said with the backing of Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko. The latter says he hopes to "reinstate all the powers of our (Russia's) athletics federation in March".

That will give the 4,000 or so Russian athletes who are currently banned from international competition and sports authorities time to prepare for the Brazil Olympic Games in August.

Virtually unknown outside of Russia, Shlyakhtin has been sports minister of the Samara region on the Volga river for the last three years. Before that he headed the CSKA athletics club.

Sports minister Mukto said Saturday he was the "ideal candidate" to lead their athletics body out of crisis. The ideal candidate perhaps, but certainly the only one.

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