Divisions remain over whether Russian track and field athletes approved to compete at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will be able to do so under their own flag, or under a neutral one.
A decision was made at the recent Olympic Stakeholders Summit here to “fully respect” the ruling of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to extend their suspension of Russian athletes from participating at all competitions, including the Olympic Games.
Only those who can prove they have been operating under an effective testing system will be deemed eligible, with this having been interpreted as excluding all those based in Russia, meaning only three or four are expected.
Those approved will compete under a neutral banner at all IAAF-run competitions, and, it had been thought, at the Olympic Games as well.
Under current IOC rules, however, only National Olympic Committees can enter athletes to the Olympic Games.
This means that, because the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) has not been accused of any wrongdoing, a rule change would be required for them to compete neutrally under the IOC flag.
No application has yet been made by the IAAF for such a rule change to be discussed before Rio 2016, the IOC insist.
But the IAAF will continue to push for a neutral team.
“The decision [of Russian athletes competing independently] applies to IAAF competitions, where there is no national federation due to the suspension [of ARAF],” said IOC President Thomas Bach, who chaired the meeting.
“Therefore, the IAAF has chosen this option to allow Russian athletes to compete in their competition.
“When it comes to the Olympic Games, all athletes are part of the team of the ROC – this is a different situation.
“If there are athletes qualified, then they wil compete as part of the ROC team, because only an NOC can enter athletes to the Olympic Games.
“There are no teams of International Federations there.”
But he was forced to deny questions that his policy was “contradictory”, while the announcement was greeted jubilantly in Russia.
The IAAF are keen for neutral participation primarily in order to find a way for Yulya Stepanova to compete.
Stepanova, the doping cheat turned whistleblower who made the allegations which formed the basis for IAAF suspension, would not be selected to compete under the Russian flag, giving she has been accused there of making slanderous and traitorous allegations.
“Stepanova will be unable to compete under the Russian flag,” confirmed ROC President Alexander Zhukov.
“It is the ROC that submits the roster.”
Stepanova’s participation in Rio is seen as vital in order to encourage other whistleblowers to come forward.
The IAAF are expected to formally push for the rules to be changed before Rio 2016, something that remains theoretically possible, even if Bach’s comments have suggested otherwise.
No discussions took place about Stepanova today during the Summit, both Bach and the IAAF have said.
“We understand the IAAF still has to take decision [on which Russians will be selected], so everything we say here would be mere speculation,” added Bach.
This ambiguity is threatening to overshadow an Olympic Summit at which the stakeholders present claim to have taken measures to ensure “a level playing field for all athletes participating at the Olympic Games”.
“The IAAF Council unanimously accepted the recommendation of the Taskforce to maintain the suspension of RusAF and to amend the competition rules to allow Russian athletes to apply for eligibility, on an exceptional basis and subject to meeting strict criteria, to compete in international competitions, including the Olympic Games, in an individual capacity as neutral athletes, not under any country’s flag,” said an IAAF statement.
“This decision has been unequivocally supported across sport and the IOC Summit today unanimously agreed to fully respect the IAAF decision.
“The IAAF will now work with the IOC to ensure the decision is respected and implemented in full.”
Both Zhukov and IAAF President Sebastian Coe were present at the meeting, along with representatives from leading IFs and NOCs as well as the IOC.
If, as expected, only a small number of Russians are permitted to compete, the discrepancy is largely academic, because most leading Russians will remain banned.
But it remains possible the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) will overrule the IAAF and allow additional Russians to compete.
Zhukov said during today’s meeting that many appeals are expected.
“We hope that the Court of Arbitration for Sport will make an unbiased, just and legal decision despite the position voiced by its President,” he told the TASS news agency afterwards.
CAS head and IOC vice-president John Coates said last week that the Russian doping system was “rotten to the core”.
By Nick Butler at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz