Olympics-Kiwi rowers continue training for Rio amid Russia ban talks

WELLINGTON, June 28 (Reuters) - A small group of New Zealand rowers, despite failing to qualify for the Rio Olympics, have continued to train amid speculations of a blanket ban on Russia from the Games. Russia's track and field athletes have been banned from the Rio Games after a World Anti-Doping Agency report last year identified systematic doping within the country. Television New Zealand reported that several Olympic sports' world governing bodies had advised the national organisations in New Zealand to put athletes on standby with an eye to them replacing Russia if the country was disqualified from the Rio Games. The report did not clarify the sports and said only "a group of up to 12 athletes" had been identified if Russia receives a blanket ban from the Aug. 5-21 Games. The New Zealand Olympic Committee, however, said they "had not heard of any pending wholesale ban" for Russia's athletes and they had not been notified of any re-allocation of quota places for Rio. "If there is a change of quotas of allocation by the international federations then the NZOC needs to be advised of that," an NZOC spokesperson told Reuters. "They have to go through their correct processes." However the NZOC later said in a statement that a group of rowers had continued to train ahead of the Rio Games should any athletes, not just those from Russia, failed doping tests ahead of the Olympics. "Drug testing in the build up to the Olympic Games is a high priority for the international sporting movement and positive drug tests from international athletes that may affect New Zealand Olympic qualification cannot be ruled out," NZOC chief executive Kereyn Smith said in the statement. "To this end, New Zealand's ... rowing crews that narrowly missed qualification at the May last chance qualification regatta in Lucerne have returned to New Zealand to continue training at Lake Karapiro at the request of their sport, Rowing New Zealand." The men's quadruple sculls and the men's four missed out on making Rio after they both finished third at last month's last chance Olympic qualification regatta in Switzerland. Only the top two finishers in Lucerne qualified for Rio with the Russian men's squad winning the final. South Africa won the men's four in Lucerne with France finishing second, ahead of New Zealand's crew. Russia had already qualified in men's four for Rio at the world championships last year. Rowing New Zealand did not immediately answer telephone calls from Reuters. The world governing body FISA was also unavailable for immediate comment. (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)