AFTER almost six years of Russian athletes being banned from competing in international events, we could be on the verge of seeing them return.

Last week, World Athletics revealed their plan for reinstating Russia following its suspension for a plethora of doping offences that rocked the sport when they first emerged, and have continued to cast a shadow ever since.

The revelations in 2015 showed Russia had been operating a state-sponsored doping programme and the resulting sanctions saw Russian athletes banned from competition with only a few permitted to take part under a neutral banner.

So the news Russia could be on the road to redemption is hugely significant.

It should perhaps not be surprising; after all, the country had to return sooner or later.

But it is vital that Russian athletes only be readmitted if the country has proved to have cleaned up its act.

The damage done by Russia as a result of its colossal breach of the rules cannot be overstated. Athletics, which has long had a problem convincing the public its best athletes were clean, saw its reputation take another serious dent when it was revealed Russia had been sending doped athletes to competitions for quite some time.

This readmission plan may be necessary, but it also has to be watertight.

World Athletics president Lord Sebastian Coe called the plan a “roadmap to rebuild trust”.

“This is not the end but the beginning of a long journey, with an incredible amount of work for RUSAF [the Russian Athletics Federation] to do to rebuild trust,” he said.

Policies will be introduced that increase drug testing, encourage whistleblowing, punish those who resist change and increase athlete input into how the sport is run, with the report acknowledging that changing the culture will take a generation.

Specific timescales for the readmission, and whether the Russian track and field team will be permitted to take part in the Olympics this summer, are yet to be decided. After missing Rio 2016, their athletes will clearly be desperate to be in Tokyo. 

However, if Russia is allowed back too soon, before there are clear signs that their athletes are clean and the system operated is no longer nefarious, the damage done to the sport  will be even greater than the original blow in 2015.

It will be good for athletics to have Russia back. But only if it can be proved their team are clean.


STEPHEN HENDRY’S long-awaited comeback ended in defeat, with the Scot losing 4-1 to 36th-ranked Matthew Selt in the first round of the Gibraltar Open.

The seven-time world champion made a century break, the 776th of his career, but that was the only high point.

The coming months will reveal if the 52-year-old  is able to regain his position towards the top of the game, but his return has reignited the question of why former greats feel the need to return to battle after a period of relaxing retirement.

Most people are likely to think Hendry’s decision to return to the professional game is crazy. What could he have to gain?

Very few comebacks end up a success, most being a crushing disappointment.

Hendry will obviously have to improve on his opening performance, but there are few, surely, who will count him out just yet. The mentality that made him great is also
the mentality that has motivated this comeback, one that few of his peers would attempt. 

Only time will tell if he is able to get what he wants out of this. But it is rarely anything but fun watching a former great trying to beat those who grew up watching him.



THE revelation last week that Japan is planning on banning overseas spectators from this summer’s Olympic Games did not come as a surprise.

With the pandemic still in full swing, it has seemed unlikely for quite a while that Tokyo would allow thousands of foreigners to enter the country.

The final announcement will be made at the end of the month, but unless something dramatic happens in the next few weeks, it seems certain confirmation will come that it will only be home spectators in the stands in Tokyo.

The up side of this development is that it suggests plans are in place to ensure the Games do indeed go ahead in July. 

However, the obvious down side is that the Olympics is such a special event for a number of reasons, with one of the primary ones being the fans.

The mix of home spectators with fans from all corners of the world is unlike anything else and so the absence of foreign fans will be a significant blow.

However, considering there has been times when the cancellation of the Olympics seemed the sensible option, we have to be glad if the Games go ahead at all.