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Olympic Committee decides against banning all Russian athletes from Rio Games

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin watch the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (File Associated Press)
By David Wharton Los Angeles Times

Facing pressure to ban the entire Russian contingent from the upcoming Summer Games, Olympic leaders announced Sunday they will instead leave the decision to the international federations that govern each sport.

The International Olympic Committee had been urged by the World Anti-Doping Agency and others to take decisive action amid an ever-widening cheating scandal in Russia.

But with only 12 days remaining until the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, the IOC’s executive board chose a more cautious approach.

“We had to balance the collective responsibility and the individual justice to which every human being and athlete is entitled to,” Thomas Bach, the IOC president, told reporters during a conference call.

The 28 international federations whose sports compete in the Summer Olympics now face a complex challenge.

They could follow the lead of track officials, who banned the Russian track team late last year. That ban was recently upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, establishing legal precedent.

The federations might also consider each athlete’s case individually.

Either type of ban would likely trigger legal appeals with the clocking ticking down to the Aug. 5 start of the Games.

Russia has been under intense scrutiny since late last year when a World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, report alleged organized doping among athletes, coaches and officials in the sport of track and field.

The country’s sports officials eventually acknowledged a culture of cheating that dates back to the Communist era when Soviet and East German athletes took part in state-sponsored doping.

Officials promised to enact a series of reforms, overhauling the leadership of their track federation, subjecting athletes to additional testing and inviting international observers into their national anti-doping operations.

But a subsequent WADA investigation found continued resistance to testing. Most recently, a third report included evidence of systemic cheating in the country’s drug-testing labs, where, it said, workers swapped clean samples for dirty ones to help Russian athletes evade detection.

With WADA and others around the world calling for an outright ban, the IOC’s board held a three-hour teleconference to discuss the matter on Sunday.

Alexander Zhukov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee, took part in the call, emphasizing that his country’s athletes had recently been tested extensively by independent workers and labs.

“Russian athletes who participated in different competitions in all sports have submitted more than 3,000 doping samples,” the IOC stated. “The vast majority of the results were negative.”

The IOC’s ruling followed recent statements in which Bach seemed to indicate his preference for individual justice to a blanket ban.

“An athlete should not suffer and should not be sanctioned for a system in which he was not implicated,” Bach said on Sunday.

Still, the IOC said Russians no longer benefit from a presumption of innocence and now face rigorous eligibility standards.

The Games will not accept any Russian athlete who has ever tested positive, even if that athlete has served his or her punishment. The Russians must also submit to increased out-of-competition testing.

Vitaly Mutko, the Russian sports minister, told the Associated Press that the standards are “very tough” but added that he believes “the majority of our team will comply.”

In a related matter, the IOC decided not to allow Russian runner Yulia Stepanova to compete in Rio.

Stepanova had previously been sanctioned for doping but had served as a valuable whistleblower, assisting authorities in their investigation.

The IOC thanked Stepanova for her help but stated that her case did “not satisfy the ethical requirements for an athlete to enter the Olympic Games.”