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Russia escape ban

Despite doping scandal, country's athletes can compete at Rio Olympics if they clear IOC criteria

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach stressed yesterday that Russian competitors have to pass an extremely rigorous set of criteria before being cleared for the Rio Games.

"We have set the bar to the limit", Bach said, after the IOC decided against a blanket ban on the entire Russian team over state-run doping.

Each Russian Olympic hopeful must be individually cleared by his or her respective sports federation.

An expert from the Court of Arbitration for Sport must then approve the federation's decision, with the IOC having the final word.

That process must be carried out for the more than 300 athletes nominated for Rio by the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) within two weeks, with the Games set to start on Aug 5.

"This is a very ambitious timeline, but we had no choice," Bach said.

The world governing body's ruling 15-member executive board met via teleconference and decided that responsibility for ruling on the eligibility of Russians remains with the international federations.

"Under these exceptional circumstances, Russian athletes in any of the 28 Olympic summer sports have to assume the consequences of what amounts to a collective responsibility in order to protect the credibility of the Olympic competitions, and the 'presumption of innocence' cannot be applied to them," the IOC said.

For individuals to be excluded from the "collective responsibility" they must have a spotless international records on drug testing, the IOC said, adding that no athlete who has been sanctioned for doping will be eligible to compete in Rio.

That would include middle-distance runner Yulia Stepanova, the whistleblower and former drug cheat whose initial evidence led to one of the biggest doping scandals in decades.

The World Anti-Doping Agency report produced by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren described extensive doping and cover-ups, particularly at the Sochi Winter Olympics hosted by Russia in 2014.

The IOC has already said that it would not organise or give patronage to any sports event in Russia, including the planned 2019 European Games, and that no member of the Russian Sports Ministry implicated in the report would be accredited for Rio.

It had also ordered the immediate retesting of all Russian athletes from the Sochi Olympics and instructed international winter sports federations to halt preparations for major events in Russia.

Since then, a series of international federations, anti-doping agencies and athletes have called for a blanket ban, though some have said they are against punishing innocent athletes.

"It would be quite difficult for us to think we should ban an entire team, which will include some cyclists who are not implicated in any of these stories we've been hearing," said Brian Cookson, president of the International Cycling Union.

"We're going to have look at it case by case, rider by rider and team by team. At the end of the day, Russians are not the only sportsmen or women who have been found doping."

The stunning allegations about Russian cheating forced the IOC to take aggressive action without the luxury of time, Bach explained.

Russian athletes "have to assume a collective responsibility" for operating in such a corrupt system, he said.

But, rather than implementing an outright ban on the whole country, the IOC wanted to send "a message of encouragement to the clean Russian athletes to show that they are clean".

"It's fine to talk about collective responsibility," Bach said, "but... You have to be able to look in the eyes of every athlete concerned."

Asked how he would respond to critics accusing the IOC of treating Russia too softly, Bach said "read the decision", stressing that the ROC was being treated more harshly than every other national Olympic committee. - Wire Services.

It is a specific challenge for our sportsmen but I am absolutely sure that the majority of the Russian team will meet the criteria.

— Russia sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who believes most of the country’s athletes will meet IOC’s strict criteria to compete at next month’s Rio Olympics