IOC OKs case-by-case approval for Russians in Rio, forgoing blanket ban

Rather than instituting a blanket ban of Russia, the International Olympic Committee will allow Russian athletes to compete in the Rio Olympic Games on a case-by-case basis.

Pavel Golovkin/AP
The Olympics rings are seen on a fence in front of the Russian Olympic Committee building in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, July 24, 2016.

Russian athletes will be able to compete for their country in Rio this year – as long as they can prove they have never taken part in the massive, state-led doping scandal.

Olympic officials announced on Sunday that the 28 individual global sports federations will decide which Russian athletes are cleared to compete in the Rio de Janeiro games. Though the Committee has lifted the “presumption of innocence," it says that each athlete deserves individual justice.

"An athlete should not suffer and should not be sanctioned for a system in which he was not implicated," International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach told reporters on a conference call following Sunday’s decision, according to ESPN.

Twelve days ahead of the start of Rio’s games, the committee announced the criteria that every Russian athlete must fulfill to compete. They must never have been sanctioned for doping and must not be implicated in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s report by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren released Monday that details Russia's state-sponsored doping program between 2011 and 2015 that affected the whole range of summer and winter sports. 

The IOC's decision to allow some Russian athletes – though likely a much-depleted team – rejected the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) recommendation that Russia be banned from the Rio Olympics altogether. The WADA investigation revealed that Russia’s sport ministry directed and oversaw a doping program that represented a “shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sport and on the Olympic Games,” according to Bach.

US Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart expressed his disappointment with the IOC decision, which marked a much softer response than the outright ban proposed by at least 10 national anti-doping organizations.

“Many, including clean athletes and whistleblowers, have demonstrated courage and strength in confronting a culture of state-supported doping and corruption within Russia. Disappointingly, however, in response to the most important moment for clean athletes and the integrity of the Olympic Games, the IOC has refused to take decisive leadership," Tygart said in a statement, according to ESPN. "The decision regarding the Russians participating and the confusing mess left in its wake is a significant blow to the rights of clean athletes."

All of Russia’s track and field athletes have already been banned by that sport’s governing body, a decision that was upheld on Thursday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Even the Rio ambitions of the track and field athlete who helped to expose the doping scheme, Yulia Stepanova, are over. The International Association of Athletics Federations  had originally approved her to compete under a neutral flag, but the IOC overturned that decision Sunday because she had been sanctioned for doping in the past. In recognition of her bravery as a whistleblower, and her contributions to the fight against doping, the IOC Executive Board is inviting Ms. Stepanova as a guest to the Rio games and suggesting that she could join a National Olympic Committee in the future.

The sport’s governing bodies now face the arduous task of scrutinizing Russia’s nearly 400 Rio-bound athletes in the less than two weeks before the games. Many of these committees lack the resources to conduct a serious anti-doping investigations.

According to McLaren's investigation, Russian athletes submitted clean urine samples prior to the Sochi games when the performance-enhancing drugs were not in their system. The samples were frozen and stored, as athletes continued to dope. At the games, athletes gave their tainted urine samples to the independent doping control officers who stored them in labs. But working in the middle of the night, Russian lab technicians passed the tainted samples to an FSB agent who took the bottles and opened the supposedly tamper-proof lids, and brought the bottles back. The lab technicians then replaced the tainted urine with clean urine prior to drug testing.

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