Moscow (AFP) - Yevgeny Yurchenko, believed to be backed by the Kremlin, has emerged as a sole candidate to run for president of Russia's Athletics Federation, the doping-tainted body said on Thursday.
On Friday, Russian athletics, rocked by repeated doping scandals, will elect a new president as it faces a ban from sporting events including the Olympics and concerns from its own athletes.
Three candidates were believed to be in the running for the top job including sporting agent Mikhail Gusev and Moscow Athletics Federation president Oleg Kurbatov.
But in a statement late Thursday, Russia's Athletics Federation said businessman and politician Yurchenko, a former vice governor, was the only candidate. The federation did not provide further details.
Russian media, citing anonymous sources, reported that Yurchenko has the Kremlin's backing.
Gusev said he did not withdraw his candidacy.
"I have just learnt what's happening myself," he told state news agency RIA Novosti.
"I am planning to find out what has happened," he said, calling for an explanation.
The new head of Russia's Athletics Federation (RUSAF) will need to try to convince the world athletics body to allow Russian athletes who test clean to compete under a neutral banner at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Russia has been suspended by World Athletics -- then known as the IAAF -- since 2015 over repeated doping scandals and has been fighting for readmission.
The 51-year-old Yurchenko, who was briefly vice-governor of the Voronezh region south of Moscow, won notoriety in 2011 when he purchased the historic Vostok space capsule for $2.9 million.
He has promised to overhaul the Russian Athletics Federation and to recognise RUSAF's previous doping "errors".
Ahead of the election Friday, there were concerns among athletes over whether the any of the original candidates could give RUSAF its much needed overhaul.
"Unfortunately today, those who would like to preside over the federation are people I don't trust," veteran high jumper Mariya Lasitskene told AFP last month.
The new president will take over from Dmitry Shlyakhtin who resigned in November after being accused by World Athletics of obstructing a probe into Russian high jumper Danil Lysenko.
The Athletics Integrity Unit then recommended that World Athletics expel Russia from the global federation, following on from a suspension imposed in 2015.
With the sport in the country in turmoil, the entire RUSAF board has resigned and handed its powers to the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), at the behest of Russia's new Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin.
The World Anti-Doping Agency in late 2019 banned Russia for four years from major global sporting events, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, over manipulated doping data.