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IOC Buckles and Lets Some Russian Track Stars Come to Rio

Some Russian athletes will likely be allowed to compete in Rio.

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First, Finland embarrassed Russia at the junior world hockey championships. Then Moscow’s senior team won a mere bronze at the world hockey championships. And this week the Russians failed to advance from group play at the European soccer championship.

But on Tuesday, sports-obsessed President Vladimir Putin received what passes for good news for Russian athletics. The International Olympic Committee appears to have buckled under pressure and agreed to allow some Russian track athletes to compete in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics  — and not under a neutral designation — despite allegations of widespread doping.

That was the surprising takeaway from the IOC’s apparent endorsement of the International Association of Athletics Federations’ earlier decision to block Russian track and field athletes from participating in the quadrennial tournament. The IOC, though, didn’t shut the door completely, and Putin may take some relief from the fact that Russians may yet have a chance to participate.

Last week, the IAAF banned Russian athletes from Rio because of evidence of a systematic doping effort. In a statement Tuesday, the IAAF said that Russian track athletes can apply to compete on “an exceptional basis and subject to meeting strict criteria” and that they will do so “in an individual capacity as neutral athletes, not under any country’s flag.”

But the IOC appears to have backed down somewhat and may allow Russian track and field athletes to compete under the Russian flag.

“All athletes then are part of the team of the Russian Olympic Committee, and this is a different situation,” IOC President Thomas Bach told reporters, who pressed the Olympic boss to give a straight answer on the flag under which Russian athletes will compete. “Contrary to the national federation of track and field, the Russian Olympic Committee is not suspended.”

Russian sports officials signaled Tuesday that they are prepared to go along with an extraordinary testing regime to get their athletes to Rio. “Our Olympians are ready to go over and above all the normal anti-doping tests to show their commitment to clean and fair sport,” the Russian Ministry of Sport said in a statement. “For example, all track and field athletes had already agreed to undergo a minimum of three additional anti-doping controls carried out by the IAAF before the Olympic Games.”

Last time Russian athletes competed in the Olympics — on their home turf in Sochi — they dominated the medal count. But that impressive achievement has since been tainted by widespread evidence that the athletes used performance enhancing drugs and then received government help covering it up.

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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