The International Olympics Committee has officially approved 271 Russian athletes to compete in the Rio Olympics, according to Reuters, which cites the head of Russia's Olympic committee as its source. The decision comes after the IOC had commissioned a three-member independent panel to make a final review of Russian athletes set to compete in this summer's Rio Games. Originally, Russia had planned to send 387 athletes to the games, but following recent revelations of widespread doping, and a ban on Russia's entire track and field team, Russia will now send only 70 percent of its national team.
The IOC's final decision follows a report published on July 18th that confirmed long-held allegations of widespread doping among Russian athletes. The report was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Organization (WADA), which started the investigation after a 2014 German documentary featured Russian track athlete Yuliya Stepanova's claims of doping among her teammates. Through two independent reports, WADA not only discovered strong evidence that Russia's track team was doping, but also revealed Russia had implemented a top-down doping scheme that extended across at least two Olympic Games and involved numerous Russian athletes from at least 20 different sports.
Following WADA's report, the IOC decided not to issue an outright ban of Russian athletes from Rio. Instead it delegated the decision to the 28 individual sports federations that oversee different sports at the summer games. After reviewing the athletes, the federations sent a list of "approved" athletes to the IOC.
Sports federations approved athletes first
Many stakeholders — including 13 national anti-doping organizations overseen by WADA — criticized the IOC for passing the buck. Some pointed to IOC president Thomas Bach's close relationship to Russian president Vladimir Putin as suspect. Others wondered if the individual federations were equipped to handle the review process. The New York Times, for example, reported anti-doping officials were concerned some federations weren't as willing as others to crack down on doping. And many balked at the brief span of time between WADA's report and the Olympics opening ceremony on August 5th — a brief two weeks.
Adding to the controversy was a public spat that erupted between WADA and the IOC last week. At a press conference on July 31st, Bach, the IOC president, blamed WADA for the current mess and accused the anti-doping organization of mishandling accusations of the Russian doping scheme. He also said it was irresponsible of WADA to release its report so close to the games. In a statement the following day, WADA said that it acted immediately when it had corroborated evidence, following guidelines laid out by the World Anti-Doping Code. On August 3rd, Bach once again criticized WADA, saying that the Russian scandal had revealed deficiencies in the organization and that a full review of WADA's anti-doping system was needed.
WADA may have held back credible leads that Russians were doping
There were also accusations against WADA from within its own ranks this week. Jack Robertson, the former chief investigator for WADA who stepped down in January, told ProPublica and the BBC that WADA deliberately held back credible leads that Russia's doping scheme extended across multiple Olympic sports.
The criticism has also arrived from a handful of current and former Olympic athletes. Former Australian sprint champion Melinda Gainsford-Taylor said the IOC missed a chance to send a message to cheaters by not issuing a blanket ban on Russia. Jo Pavey, an English 10,000-meter runner who will be competing in Rio, also suggested the entire Russian Olympic team should have been banned.
Still, this Russian Olympics controversy isn't all that shocking
Doping and the Olympics have been closely intertwined
Since the modern Olympics were founded at the turn of the 20th century, doping and the games have been closely intertwined. The biggest scandal erupted following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when it was revealed that East Germany had run a systemic doping system, with 2 million doses of steroids administered annually. The scheme was supported by 3,000 Stasi agents and the East German secret police, according to Mark Johnson, author of Spitting in the Soup: Inside the Dirty Game of Doping in Sports. More recently, anti-doping officials retested samples from athletes who competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Close to a 100 tested positive for doping, many of them medalists, according to The New York Times.
As US athlete Michael Phelps, a 22-time Olympic medal winner, said at a press conference in Rio on August 3rd: "I think I can honestly say that in my career I don't think I've ever competed in a clean sports."