— RFE/RL (@RFERL) June 19, 2016
For Russia’s track and field stars, Tuesday’s meeting of Olympic executives may offer the last chance to compete at the Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Last week, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) upheld a ban on Russian athletes, first imposed in November, following revelations of state-sponsored doping and massive corruption riddling the nation’s track and field programme.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the weekend applauded the IAAF’s tough stance and endorsed its assertion that it was the athletics federation rather than the Olympic body that had jurisdiction over eligibility.
But the IAAF left a window slightly open.
“Individual athletes who can clearly and convincingly show that they are not tainted by the Russian system” could yet take part in Rio, the body said.
It remains unclear how many Russian athletes meet that criteria. And, if some do, under which flag will they compete?
Tuesday’s IOC Olympic summit should provide some initial answers.
The 14-member IOC executive committee will meet in Lausanne from 0700 to 1000 GMT, followed by a press conference with Olympics chief Thomas Bach.
Individual vs. collective punishment
Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko on Saturday indicated that all hope was lost for the nation’s track stars.
Citing the IOC’s strong support for the IAAF ban, he said “our sports people have no chance” of going to the Games.
Chastising the IAAF, he insisted that punishment for wrongdoing “should be individual, not collective”.
But the IOC does have some room to manoeuvre.
It seems likely that only Russian athletes who train outside the country could meet the IAAF’s criteria of not being “tainted” by the nation’s system.
That would exclude pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva — who said she would challenge the IAAF in court — as well as 110 metre hurdles world champion Sergey Shubenkov.
But runner Yulia Stepanova, a whistleblower who helped bring the doping scandal to light, could still be Rio-bound.
And the IOC has precedents to work with in trying to find a way to allow some “clean” Russian athletes to compete.
They could join the first-ever refugee team in appearing under the Olympic banner, or simply compete as independents like Yugoslav athletes did in 1992 when the since-dismantled country was under United Nations sanction.
The IOC has itself acknowledged the difficulties in reconciling collective responsibility and individual justice.
At a press conference on June 3, Bach was non-committal about what he saw as an ideal outcome for Russian athletes at the Rio Games, which start on August 5.
Asked if he hoped to see Russian track and field stars compete, he told reporters: “I’m not living in the world of hopes.”