Yuliya Stepanova, the whistleblower pivotal to the discovery of deep-rooted state-sponsored doping in Russia, has hit out angrily at the International Olympic Committee in the wake of its decision to ban her from competing in Rio.
It comes after the IOC provoked outrage from anti-doping organisations and athletes on Sunday when it decided against a blanket ban on Russian athletes despite an independent report that uncovered a state-run conspiracy across the majority of Olympic sports over five years.
Stepanova, an 800m runner, and her husband Vitaly, a former anti-doping official in Russia, have been widely praised for their bravery in speaking out. They originally approached the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2010 but were told it had no investigative powers. Eventually they took their story to investigative journalist Hajo Seppelt, whose explosive 2014 documentary set in motion the chain of events that led to Richard McLaren’s report into Russia’s state-sponsored doping programme.
Stepanova, who has fled Russia and is living in hiding in north America, had been cleared to enter the Olympics as a neutral athlete by the International Association of Athletics Federations but on Sunday the IOC ruled that any Russian athlete with a doping past, including Stepanova, would not be allowed to compete in Rio. It instead invited Stepanova and her husband to attend the Games as spectators, an offer they declined.
On Monday the Stepanovs appealed against the IOC decision and angrily claimed the IOC banned her on false premises.
Rather than issue a blanket ban, the IOC delegated the decision on whether to allow Russian athletes to compete to the 28 international Olympic sport federations. But it also said Stepanova could not compete because there was no provision for her to do so under the Olympic Charter and introduced a new rule that prevented any Russian athlete who had previously served a ban from competing.
Yuliya Stepanova said the IOC had based its decision on “wrong and untrue statements”. The IOC said it had partly based its decision on the fact that she had declined to compete for Russia. But transcripts and audio files of her interview with the IOC ethics commission show she was happy to compete but believed she was unlikely to be picked.
The Stepanovs also took issue with the implication from the IOC that Yuliya only spoke out following a positive test, calling into question her motivation for whistle-blowing. “Yuliya has been interviewed exhaustively numerous times by officials of the Wada and IAAF, all of whom found her motivations and information provided to be sincere and fully credible,” they said.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency’s chief executive Travis Tygart said that the IOC’s decision to refuse her entry to the Games was “incomprehensible” and would “undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward”.
Dick Pound, meanwhile, the author of the report into state-sponsored doping in athletics that led to Russian track and field athletes being banned, said the IOC’s decision to delegate to the 28 Olympic sport federations was a “cop out” that “set the worst precedent imaginable”.
The International Tennis Federation on Sunday night was the first to announce that the eight Russian athletes entered for its sport would be allowed to compete. The archery federation followed suit , while the international swimming federation, Fina, said it would ban three Russian swimmers from going to the Rio Games, with four more being withdrawn from the team by the Russian Olympic Committee. Nikita Lobintsev, Vladimir Morozov and Daria Ustinova were rejected by Fina because their names appeared in McLaren’s damning report. The Russian authorities withdrew Mikhail Dovgalyuk, Yuliya Efimova, Natalia Lovtcova and open-water swimmer Anastasia Krapivina from consideration as all have served doping bans.
Rowing’s international federation, Fisa, announced on Monday that it was barring three Russian rowers from competing in Rio while deciding on the remainder on a case by case basis. Other federations, including boxing and gymnastics, said they would go through all Russian athletes nominated on a case by case basis.
Amid legal chaos, one inconsistency in the IOC’s ruling – that Russian athletes who have served a ban will not be allowed to compete while other such as the American sprinter Justin Gatlin will – is also set to be challenged. The head of the Russian Rowing Federation says two of his athletes, Ivan Podshivalov and Anastasia Karabelshchikova, were planning to appeal to the court of arbitration for sport.
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