By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's suspended athletics federation named an acting president on Saturday a day after the sport's global governing body halted its reinstatement process and raised the possibility of it being expelled altogether.
Yulia Tarasenko, a federation vice-president, was named acting president after a presidium meeting in Moscow, replacing Dmitry Shlyakhtin, who was among the seven people provisionally suspended by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) this week for serious breaches of anti-doping rules.
"The mood is not very cheerful. The situation at the federation is very difficult," Tarasenko, who also serves as the head of St Petersburg's athletics federation, told reporters.
"We think there is a chance to keep fighting for the federation because we have a large number of athletes and they shouldn't suffer."
Russia's athletics federation was suspended in 2015 over a report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that found evidence of mass doping in the sport and had since been trudging toward reinstatement.
This week, however, Shlyakhtin and other federation officials were provisionally suspended for having provided false explanations and forged documents to explain three whereabouts violations by Russian high jumper Danil Lysenko, the silver medalist at the 2017 world championships.
Shlyakhtin told reporters on Saturday he had handed his resignation to the federation's presidium.
The charges against Shlaykhtin and the six others prompted World Athletics, the global governing body of athletics formerly known as the IAAF, to suspend the federation's reinstatement process.
World Athletics said the taskforce overseeing Russia's efforts would make a recommendation on whether it should be expelled entirely and that it would revise the procedure used since 2016 to clear certain Russian athletes to compete internationally after they demonstrated they are training in a doping-free environment.
"Our main goal is to ensure that the athletes themselves don't suffer from this situation," said Yuri Borzakovsky, the 2004 Olympic 800 meters champion who is head coach of Russia's national athletics team.
In addition to the turmoil at its athletics federation, Russia's chances of competing at next year's Tokyo Olympics are in jeopardy after WADA's Compliance Review Committee recommended that Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA be suspended again.
The recommendation came after WADA discovered inconsistencies in laboratory data provided by Moscow this year.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, editing by Ed Osmond)