Athletics: Russians act to ease Moscow safety fears

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RUSSIAN OFFICIALS yesterday gave assurances that there will be no safety problems for participants in Saturday's Grand Prix final in Moscow. Their comments came after around 50 leading athletes signed a petition last week calling for the prestigious, end of season meeting to be moved to "a more serene venue" in view of the economic and political crisis enveloping Russia.

The International Amateur Athletic Federation, the sport's world governing body, has insisted the event will go ahead as planned at Luzhniki Olympic Stadium. However, it is not clear how many of the 180 athletes will choose to miss the competition.

"I can understand those who expressed safety concerns about coming to Moscow," Valentin Balakhnichev, the president of the Russian athletics federation, said. "But I can assure you and everyone else that personal safety will not be a factor here."

Claiming Moscow is safer than many other track venues around the world, he said the athletes had been unduly influenced by alarmist coverage of the Russian crisis. "I have to remind you that it was in Atlanta, not Moscow, where during the 1996 Olympics a bomb exploded in the Olympic park," Balakhnichev said.

He admitted that the economic crisis has caused problems in organising the meeting. On Monday, the electricity and telephones at the federation's offices were cut off because of unpaid bills

The European triple jump champion, Jonathan Edwards, still hopes he can compete for the Great Britain men's team in the IAAF World Cup in Johannesburg on 11-13 September despite a heel injury.

The Gateshead Harrier will be one week away from competing in the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur but is hopeful of appearing in both.

Mark Richardson has withdrawn from the 400 metres to concentrate on the Commonwealth Games, as has John Mayock from the 1500m. Mayock's place goes to Tony Whiteman who, in turn, is replaced by Neil Caddy in the 3000m.

In the 200m sprint, a knee operation has ruled out Doug Walker with Doug Turner stepping in.

The pole vaulter Nick Buckfield has failed to recover from the hip injury he suffered in the European Championships in Budapest and he is replaced by Mike Edwards.

The Romanian Olympic authorities have decided to impose life bans on athletes failing doping tests at meetings or even during training sessions, according to a senior local Olympic official.

"The Romanian Olympic Committee will ban any competitor involved in any sort of doping activity as from 1 January, 1999," the COR vice president, Cristian Gatu, said.

Gatu said the decision, adopted on Monday, would apply to anyone associated with the offence, including athletes, doctors, coaches and managers.

"Sport performances have to be a clean activity, something to enable Romanian children to identify with our great Olympic, world, European and national champions," Gatu said.

Since the fall of communism in 1989, Romanian athletics authorities have imposed bans of two years to life on 15 world and Olympic medalists.

Long distance runners have been especially hit, including Iulia Negura, Elena Murgoci, Elena Fidatov and Andreea Burlacu. In 1994, two weightlifters were banned for failing tests.

Gatu said the COR would ask Romania's Sports and Youth Minister to issue an order extending the ban to all Romanian national teams. "Sport activity cannot be led or determined by external factors like drugs," Gatu said.