LONDON (AP) — Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova was cleared by track and field’s world governing body on Friday to compete as a neutral athlete in the European championships and the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
While her participation in next week’s European meet is assured, it remains uncertain whether the IOC will accept the decision for the Olympics.
The IAAF said its doping review board accepted Stepanova’s application to compete as an independent athlete under “exceptional eligibility” rules.
The 800-meter runner provided evidence to the World Anti-Doping Agency of widespread cheating in Russia that led the IAAF to bar the country’s track and field athletes from international competition, including the Rio Games.
Stepanova, who served a two-year doping ban before turning whistleblower, is now living and training in the United States at an undisclosed location.
The IAAF said Stepanova’s petition to compete was granted because she had “made a truly exceptional contribution to the protection and promotion of clean athletes, fair play and the integrity and authenticity of the sport.”
“Ms. Stepanova is now eligible to compete in international competitions as an independent neutral athlete,” the federation said.
The IAAF added that Stepanova’s participation as a neutral athlete “is still subject to acceptance by the organizer of the competition in question, in accordance with the rules of that competition.”
The IAAF also said Friday that more than 80 Russian athletes have applied to compete in Rio under “exceptional eligibility” provisions.
The ruling on Stepanova came in time to compete in next week’s European championships in Amsterdam. Meet organizers welcomed her participation, saying he will be able to compete under the European Athletics flag. The 800-meter heats will be held Wednesday.
“The decision to accept Stepanova’s participation is in accordance with the competition rules of the European Athletics Championships,” the European body said, adding it also recognized her “exceptional contribution” to the anti-doping fight.
Stepanova’s status for the Olympics remains uncertain, however.
The IAAF and the International Olympic Committee have been at odds over how any Russian athletes would be represented if cleared for the games. The IOC says they should compete under the Russian flag, while the IAAF insists they should be under a neutral flag.
The IOC said Friday it had “taken note” of the IAAF announcement, stressing that Stepanova’s eligibility is contingent on acceptance by event organizers.
“As said before, the IOC will carefully study the case of Ms. Stepanova once the IAAF has passed on the file with all the available information as requested by the IOC,” the Olympic body said in a statement. “The IOC also took note that the IAAF received more than 80 applications from other Russian athletes seeking ‘exceptional eligibility’ in international competitions.”
The IOC has said that entry of Russian athletes for the games would be under the control of the Russian Olympic Committee, which is not suspended. That means they would use the Russian flag.
Stepanova was one of the world’s top 800-meter runners before she and her husband Vitaly Stepanov, a drug-testing official, provided evidence to German broadcaster ARD and WADA that doping was systematic in Russian athletics, with officials helping to cover it up.
Russia was banned from all international competition by the IAAF in November after a WADA commission report alleged state-sponsored doping in the country.
The IAAF upheld the ban last month, saying Russia had failed to meet reform conditions. But the IAAF also approved a measure allowing individuals to compete as “neutral athletes” if they can show they have been regularly tested by a reliable agency. Russia’s own anti-doping agency was almost entirely shut down last year after it faced cover-up claims.
The special eligibility measure is aimed largely at Russians who have been based abroad, and few athletes are likely to be considered, though U.S.-based long jumper Daria Klishina, a two-time European indoor champion, is likely to be one.
The deadline to apply is Monday, and a decision on all claims will be made by July 18. The Olympic track and field competition starts on Aug. 12.
Dmitry Shlyakhtin, the head of the suspended Russian track federation, said his organization was “absolutely neutral” on Stepanova’s eligibility, in comments to the Tass news agency. He added the federation supported 68 applications by Russians to the IAAF but “maybe someone filed applications themselves.”
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