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Russia remains 'preferred host' of second European Games in 2019 despite doping crisis

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Russia remains the preferred choice to host the 2019 European Games despite the country's current suspension from global track and field because of a doping scandal.

The European Olympic Committees said Friday that Russia is still "the preferred host providing they can demonstrate their ability to support an anti-doping program of the highest international standards."

The European body said it would continue to consult with the IOC, World Anti-Doping Agency and others to assess Russia's compliance with global anti-doping rules. Russia's athletics federation was suspended in November after a WADA panel alleged state-sponsored doping and cover-ups in the country.

The inaugural European Games were held last year in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The Russian cities of Sochi and Kazan have been proposed as joint hosts of the 2019 event.

The Netherland had been chosen to host the games in 2019 but pulled out last year over financial concerns.

The EOC hopes to have a decision on a new host by May.

Also Friday, the EOC gave its highest award to the first lady of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva, for her role in last year's games in Baku.

Aliyeva headed the organizing committee for the June 2014 games, which took place amid controversy over Azerbaijan's human rights record under Aliyeva's husband, President Ilham Aliyev. Some journalists were barred from attending the event after criticizing the government.

EOC president Patrick Hickey said in a statement that Aliyeva had been "inspired and decisive" and that Baku had "provided an excellent blueprint for future editions of the European Games."

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