LONDON (Reuters) - The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said on Wednesday it was maintaining its suspension of the Russian Paralympic Committee but had yet to make a final decision on whether its athletes could compete at the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.
In a strongly worded statement, the IPC accused the Russian Ministry of Sport of being “evasive and unhelpful” and said there was “a very strong likelihood” that the suspension will remain in place beyond the Games start date next March.
But the IPC has kept in place an interim measure for Russian athletes to compete as neutrals in qualification events across four winter sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing and snowboard.
A final decision on whether Russian athletes can compete at the Games in Pyeongchang will be made in late January, little more than a month before they open on March 9.
The IPC imposed a blanket ban on Russia for the Rio Paralympics last year after revelations of a systematic doping culture in the country -- a tougher stance than that taken by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which elected not to ban Russia from the Summer Games in Brazil.
“Although the IPC Governing Board continues to be impressed at the level of co-operation and progress made so far by the RPC, it is united in its decision to maintain the suspension as the reinstatement criteria have not yet been met in full,” new IPC president Andrew Parsons said on Wednesday.
Last September the taskforce highlighted that seven key measures still needed to be met before it was able to recommend the reinstatement of the RPC. On Wednesday it said five areas of concern remained.
“The RPC is making headway with the IPC on three of the five remaining reinstatement criteria, however sadly, and much to our growing disappointment and frustration, there is a lack of progress regarding an official response from the Russian authorities specifically and adequately addressing the McLaren findings and evidence,” Parsons said.
A report for the World Anti-Doping Agency by lawyer Richard McLaren in 2016 found more than 1,000 Russian competitors in over 30 sports had been involved in a conspiracy to conceal positive drug tests over a five-year period.
“Added to this is the complete lack of information provided to us by the Russian Ministry of Sport regarding its own investigations into the matter, despite several requests from the IPC Taskforce,” said Parsons.
“There is now a very strong likelihood that this unhelpful and evasive approach will lead to the RPC not meeting the reinstatement criteria in time for the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.”
Russia said it was “disappointed” by the decision.
“We are disappointed that the suspension imposed on the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) was left in force,” the TASS news agency cited Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov as saying.
“The RPC made good on all its obligations. And I consider it unjustified that the IPC stipulated lifting the suspension by the work of the investigation and the recognition of the McLaren findings.”
“The positive moment is that all the athletes who qualified continue to take part in events,” Kolobkov added.
“The IPC has put off its decision, but it will be taken in January. In our opinion, this is a purely technical decision. It is clear that the RPC will discuss with us all issues regarding its participation (in the Olympics).”
The IOC recently issued a ban on Russia for the Winter Olympics, which take place in South Korea from Feb. 9-25, although it will allow “innocent” athletes who can prove they do not have a doping history to compete as neutrals.
Reporting by Martyn Herman and Neil Robinson; Additonal reporting by Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Ken Ferris