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IOC Backtracks on Part of IAAF Decision; No Russian ‘Neutral’ Athletes in Rio

“We have come to a unanimous declaration,” International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Tuesday after an Olympic Summit which convened heads of international federations in the Olympic movement. “All the stakeholders have come to the unanimous declaration … the Summit confirmed their respect and approval and support for the decision having been taken by IAAF last Friday.”

That decision, by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), would have nearly completely barred Russian track and field athletes from competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Russian athletics have been embroiled in a doping scandal. The international federation decided that only those athletes which could individually prove — “clearly and convincingly” — that they had not doped, for instance because they were living outside of Russia and had been repeatedly tested by an accredited and respected antidoping agency, could compete.

And notably, the IAAF said that if any athletes met their stringent criteria, they would not be competing for Russia but instead as neutral athletes. That meant that even if they had success, there would never be a Russian gold medal in track and field from Rio.

While reiterating time and time again that the IOC had supported the IAAF’s decision, President Bach backtracked on that last decision, saying that if any Russian athletes went to Rio for track and field, that they would have to compete under the Russian flag.

His assertion was that there is no such thing as a neutral athlete. However, in the past athletes have competed under the Olympic flag. In London 2012, for instance, Guar Marial, a Sudanese runner who fled to Concord, N.H., as a child but never achieved citizenship and did not wish to compete for Sudan, competed under the Olympic flag.

So did three athletes from the Netherlands Antilles, a group of islands which formerly had their own Olympic Committee but lost it when the country dissolved in 2010. In 2014, an Indian luger competed under the Olympic flag in Sochi after the Indian Olympic Committee was suspended by the IOC. Back in 2000, athletes from East Timor did the same thing when their country gained independence from Indonesia and did not yet have the infrastructure to support an Olympic Committee.

Such political issues were the only reasons an athlete should compete under the Olympic flag, Bach suggested, stating that since the Russian Olympic Committee was in good standing, all Russian athletes at the Games should compete for that organization.

“The Summit also recognized, after having studied and being informed of the [IAAF] Task Force report, that the Russian Olympic Committee is mentioned in a very positive way for their work,” he said.

However, the summit also called for greater scrutiny of Russian athletes outside of track and field, as well as of athletes from Kenya, a country which has been declared noncompliant by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

While the IAAF had announced its own intentions to carefully vet each potential Russian participant, the IOC Summit called on other international federations to essentially develop similar procedures.

“Because of the WADA non-compliance declaration of Kenya and Russia and the related substantial allegations, the Olympic Summit considers the ‘presumption of innocence’ of athletes from these countries being put seriously into question,” the declaration stated. “As a result, every IF [international federation] should take a decision on the eligibility of such athletes on an individual basis to ensure a level playing field in their sport. In this decision-making process, the absence of a positive national anti-doping test should not be considered sufficient by the IFs. This means that the respective IF should take into account other reliable adequate testing systems in addition to national anti-doping testing. This decision about the ‘level playing field’ in each of their very different Olympic sports, and eligibility, including of their member National Federations, should be taken by each IF taking into account all the specific circumstances in the relevant National Federations, any available evidence, the World Anti-Doping Code and the specific rules of their sport.”

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