Rejecting calls by anti-doping officials for a complete ban on Russia, Olympic leaders on Sunday gave individual global sports federations the task of deciding which athletes should be cleared to compete in next month's Rio de Janeiro Games.
Citing the need to protect the rights of individual athletes, the International Olympic Committee decided against taking the unprecedented step of excluding Russia’s entire team over allegations of state-sponsored doping. Instead, the IOC left it to 27 sports federations to make the call on a case-by-case basis.
“Every human being is entitled to individual justice,” IOC President Thomas Bach said after the ruling of his 15-member executive board.
At the same time, Bach said the IOC had decided on a set of "very tough criteria" that could dent Russia’s overall contingent and medal hopes in Rio, where the Olympics will open on Aug. 5.
Under the measures, no Russian athletes who have ever had a doping violation will be allowed into the games, whether or not they have served a sanction, a rule that has not applied to athletes in other countries.
In addition, the international sports federations were ordered to check each Russian athlete’s drug-testing record, with only doping controls conducted outside Russia counting toward eligibility, before authorizing them to compete. Final entry is contingent on approval from an independent sports arbitrator.
The IOC decision was sharply criticized by anti-doping bodies as a sellout that undermines clean athletes and destroys the idea of a level playing field.
“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,” US Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement.
“The decision regarding Russian participation and the confusing mess left in its wake is a significant blow to the rights of clean athletes.”
Russia’s track and field athletes were already banned by the IAAF, the sport's governing body, in a decision that was upheld Thursday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The IOC accepted that ruling, but would not extend it to all other sports. Russia's current overall team consists of 387 athletes, a number likely to be significantly reduced by the measure barring Russians who have previously served doping bans.
Calls for a complete ban on Russia intensified after Richard McLaren, a Canadian lawyer commissioned by WADA, issued a report Monday accusing Russia's sports ministry of overseeing a vast doping program of its Olympic athletes.
McLaren’s investigation, based heavily on evidence from former Moscow doping lab director Grigory Rodchenkov, affirmed allegations of brazen manipulation of Russian urine samples at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, but also found that state-backed doping had involved 28 summer and winter sports from 2011 to 2015.
“An athlete should not suffer and should not be sanctioned for a system in which he was not implicated,” Bach told reporters on a conference call after Sunday’s meeting. “It is fine to talk about collective responsibility and banning everybody, but at the end of the day we have to be able to look in the eyes of the individual athletes concerned by this decision," Bach acknowledged the decision “might not please everybody.”
“This is not about expectations,” he said. “This is about doing justice to clean athletes all over the world.”
Asked whether the IOC was being soft on Russia, Bach said: “Read the decision.... You can see how high we set the bar. This is not the end of the story but a preliminary decision that concerns Rio 2016.”
Tygart, however, questioned why the IOC “would pass the baton to sports federations who may lack the adequate expertise or collective will to appropriately address the situation within the short window prior to the games.”
The IOC also rejected the application by Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova, an 800-meter runner and former doper who helped expose the doping scandal in her homeland, to compete under a neutral flag at the games. Stepanova, now living in the United States, competed as an individual athlete at last month's European Championships in Amsterdam.
But the IOC said Stepanova did not meet the criteria for running under the IOC flag and, because she had been previously banned for doping, did not satisfy the “ethical requirements” to compete in the games. However, the IOC added that it would invite Stepanova and her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, a former Russian anti-doping official who also turned whistleblower, to attend the games.
Tygart expressed dismay at the decision to bar Stepanova.
“The decision to refuse her entry into the games is incomprehensible and will undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward,” he said.
That means only one Russian track athlete is eligible to compete in Rio: US-based long jumper Darya Klishina was granted exceptional eligibility by the IAAF because she has been tested outside of Russia.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said “the majority” of Russia’s team complies with the IOC criteria and will be able to compete. About “80 percent” of the Russian team regularly undergoes international testing of the kind specified by the IOC, he said.
International federations will have only days to process the Russian cases, and some have little experience in handling doping matters. Many are still waiting for information from McLaren’s report. The International Tennis Federation, however, said Sunday that Russia's eight-person tennis team meets the requirements as the players have been through regular international testing.
Sunday's measures are still a blow to Russia, an Olympic powerhouse which finished third in total medals at the 2012 London Games.
The team could be without some of its star names in Rio because of the IOC measure barring any Russians who have previously served doping bans. However, the impact on the Russian medal tally is likely to be less severe than the damage caused by the earlier ban on its track team, Russia's most successful contingent in London four years ago.
Among those set to be ruled out are swimmer Yulia Efimova, the world 100-meter breaststroke champion; 2012 Olympic silver medal-winning weightlifter Tatyana Kashirina; and two-time Olympic bronze medal-winning cyclist Olga Zabelinskaya. All three have previously served doping bans.
Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov presented his case to the IOC board at the beginning of Sunday's meeting, promising full cooperation with investigations and guaranteeing "a complete and comprehensive restructuring of the Russian anti-doping system."
He issued a strong plea against a full ban.
“My question is this: If you treat the cancer by cutting off the patient’s head and killing him, do you consider this as a victory in the fight?” he said in remarks released later. “That does not seem like a victory to me. But that is what is happening right now, as dozens of clean athletes are forced to miss the Olympic Games through no fault of their own.”
In its decision, the IOC also: asked the federations to examine the information and names of athletes and sports implicated in the McLaren report. Any of those implicated should not be allowed into the games, it said.
- said the federations would have to apply their own rules if they want to ban an entire Russian team from their events in Rio, as the IAAF has already done for track and field.
- said Russian entries must be examined and upheld by an expert from the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
- ruled that Russian athletes who are cleared for the games will be subjected to a “rigorous additional out-of-competition testing program.”
The IOC also reiterated its “serious concerns” about the weaknesses in the fight against doping, and called on WADA to “fully review their anti-doping systems.” The IOC said it would propose measures for more transparency and independence.