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Russian Team Escapes Ban At The Olympics


Hundreds of Russian athletes have been waiting for the International Olympic Committee to say whether they are welcome at the Rio Games next week. The IOC punted and turned the whole issue of Russia's state-sponsored doping over to individual sports federations. NPR's Tom Goldman is here to explain what's going on.

Good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughter) I'll try. Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: OK. Well, this scandal of Russian state-sponsored doping already led to Russia's track and field athletes being banned. What happens to the rest of the Russian Olympic team?

GOLDMAN: Well, each athlete will get screened by the federation that governs his or her sport. Now, the federations have to analyze the athletes' record of drug test results, but only the results from what the IOC terms reliable, adequate international drug tests, meaning ones not carried out in Russia. And if an athlete has a clean record, the federation can't take that as proof that the athlete in fact is clean. So they have to figure out the validity of those tests. And they got to do this quickly.

MONTAGNE: Partly because (laughter) the Olympics are just 11 days off. So we're talking about hundreds of athletes.

GOLDMAN: We are. And there's concern the federations cannot get this done in time and that Russian athletes who haven't been thoroughly screened will end up in Rio.

MONTAGNE: Tom, why has the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, taken this route?

GOLDMAN: The IOC President, Thomas Bach, who came into office several years ago as a reformer - he said in a teleconference yesterday that this is the fairest way to deal with the doping crisis in Russia. Bach said this will protect the clean athletes, give them a chance. But critics said delegating to the federations is another example of the IOC passing the buck.

And then there was a huge outcry about the IOC not banning the entire Russian team. There have been calls for that from around the world since the evidence of this system of widespread, state-sponsored doping from 2011 to 2015 emerged.

Here are a couple of tweets from the sports world. An Olympic bronze medalist named Katharine Merry said, quote, "IOC are useless. What exactly would a country have to do to get a blanket ban?" And then, a British IOC member named Adam Pengilly wrote, I believe that the Russian federation has mocked the Olympic movement. And I worry about the future of clean sport. I worry about the future for clean athletes.

MONTAGNE: And what does the IOC have to say for itself?

GOLDMAN: Bach pointed to what he said were tough measures short of banning the entire team, including not allowing any Russian athletes into Rio who've been sanctioned for doping in the past. The IOC cited this provision when it announced a runner named Yuliya Stepanova cannot compete in Rio. But this sparked another round of outrage because Stepanova served a drug ban a few years ago. But she was also the athlete who came forward in 2014 with the goods on this whole Russian scandal. She is the key whistleblower in this case. And anti-doping advocates say her being banned from Rio means the death of whistleblowing. And that's a critical component in this fight against doping.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.