Road To The Olympic Games

Track-field

Yulia Stepanova, other Russian athletes have options for Rio

There is still hope for clean Russian athletes to compete in Rio despite the decision by the IAAF to uphold their ban of Russia's athletics program.

Competing under IOC banner, appealing ban possible

Whistleblower Yulia Stepanova, right, could still compete at the upcoming Olympics. (Adrienne Arsenault/CBC)

There is still hope for clean Russian athletes to compete in Rio despite the decision by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to uphold their ban of Russia's athletics program.

The IAAF had previously said the issue was a complicated legal and logistical one, announced Friday the IAAF council had changed its rules to clear the way.

"Any individual athlete who has made an extraordinary contribution to anti doping — in particular we include Yulia Stepanova here — should be considered favourably," Rune Andersen, head of the IAAF's task force investigating Russian doping, said at a news conference in Vienna.

Stepanova is a 800-metre Russian runner who was caught cheating in 2013 and banned for two years. Her whistle-blowing revelations helped expose the massive doping problem in Russia.

Now, she could be allowed to compete in the upcoming Olympics as an independent athlete, the IAAF said on Friday.

"I cannot say she will compete in Rio but the council said they will look favourably," Andersen said.

'A courageous athlete'

With the IAAF extending its ban on Russian athletes on Friday, and with her home country highly unlikely to have selected her anyway, Stepanova was hoping to compete under the flag of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

It will now be down to the IOC to decide on the issue, possibly at its meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, next week.

Described as "a courageous athlete" by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Stepanov went into hiding after revealing the details of the problem, and now lives in the United States at a secret location.

Evidence provided by Stepanova and her husband Vitaly Stepanov, a former Russian anti-doping agency employee, formed part of an investigation that led to Russian athletics being suspended from international competition.

"It would be a dream come true to be an Olympian, something I had always hoped to do," Stepanova told Reuters last month.

Stepanova, who has the Olympic qualifying standard and has regularly undergone drugs tests, has maintained her training regimen in the hope of being allowed in.

"If the best place I can get is the last place, I would still be happy."

Other options for federation, athletes

The Russian track and field federation is considering an appeal against the IAAF's decision to uphold its ban from international competitions, including the Olympics.

Asked if an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sports was possible, general secretary Mikhail Butov told The Associated Press that the federation needs time to consider Friday's ruling, but, "of course we will use all opportunities to protect the athletes."

Butov also said he doesn't "see a possibility legally" for individual Russians to be allowed to compete as neutral athletes under an IAAF proposal aimed at whistleblowers and those who have been living and training outside Russia.

Asked which Russians could qualify, Butov said "pretty much our whole team has training camps in Portugal — do they count or not?"

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said it is "absurd" for the IAAF to allow individual Russians to compete as neutral athletes while the country's track and field team remains suspended.

He also claimed that all Russian athletes should be eligible for that special dispensation because foreign anti-doping organizations have overseen drug testing in the country in recent months. That, Mukto says, put Russians "outside the system" of tainted Russian organizations.

Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva intends to prove in court that the ban is a violation of human rights, according to news agency TASS.  Isinbayeva said she is angry that no one is defending her and her team, and that they are being discriminated against by the IAAF and WADA because they are Russian. 

Isinbayeva, who made the statement in May, called the IAAF's decision "a discrimination because of nationality principles."

With files from The Associated Press

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