By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – With less than fifteen days to go, Russian athletes are still unsure if they will be able to compete in Rio after the International Olympic Committee announced on Sunday, July 24th, that it would leave it up to each individual sports federation to decide whether or not to allow Russian athletes to compete.
“This situation really hinders our preparation,” the coordinator of the Russian swimming team, Sergey Jilkin Junior was quoted as saying by daily Estado de S. Paulo.
Jilkin is part of a group of ten people, including coaches, managers and athletes of the men’s Russian swimming team, who are already in São Caetano do Sul, in São Paulo, training for competitions which they still don’t know if they will able to take part in. “Athletes are nervous. Instead of relaxing and focusing on games, they end up wondering whether or not being able to participate,” stated Jilkin.
Noting that it was ‘guided by a fundamental rule… to protect clean athletes and the integrity of sport’ the IOC’s executive board announced that it would only allow entry of any Russian athlete in the Olympic Games Rio 2016 if such athlete was able to provide evidence to the full satisfaction of his or her International Federation (IF) The only Russian group banned from coming to Rio to compete will be the 67 track and field athletes due to the many evidences of irregularities.
The IOC’s decision, although cheered by Russian athletes, was criticized by many. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which had asked the IOC to ban all Russian athletes from the 2016 Olympics released a note on Sunday noting its frustration with the decision.
“WADA is disappointed that the IOC did not heed WADA’s Executive Committee recommendations that were based on the outcomes of the McLaren Investigation and would have ensured a straight-forward, strong and harmonized approach,” said Sir Craig Reedie, President of WADA in the note.
According to Reedie the McLaren Report uncovered ‘beyond a reasonable doubt, a state-run doping program in Russia that seriously undermines the principles of clean sport embodied within the World Anti-Doping Code’.
For Travis Tygart, the chief executive for USADA, the United States’ anti-doping entity, the IOC decision to hand over the fate of Russian athletes to their specific sports federation is a ‘significant blow to the rights of clean athletes’.
The non-governmental organization, Drug Free Sport New Zealand (DFSNZ) had even harsher words for the IOC. “The decision of the IOC to not take matters into their own hands but pass on the hot potato to International Federations shows a lack of will to back the core principles of their organization with hard decisions,” said DFSNZ’s chief executive Graeme Steel on the entity’s webpage.
Within minutes of the IOC announcement, athletes and sports enthusiasts took to social media to criticize the decision. “What sort of message does this send out?” asked six-time Olympic cyclist winner Chris Hoy, adding “Surely the IOC’s job is to make crucial decisions rather than passing the buck.”
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) was one of the first to announce it was allowing the eight Russian tennis players classified for the Games to play.