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Russian relief as IOC resists Rio ban

Russian competitors and officials on Monday breathed a sigh of relief over the International Olympic Committee’s decision not to impose a blanket ban on Russia, leaving it up to international sports federations to rule on their Rio participation.

“It’s absolutely a sporting decision,” Alexander Karelin, an Olympic wrestling champion and now pro-Kremlin lawmaker, told RBK business news agency.

“Considering how everything was presented, considering the data the IOC decision was based on, of course it’s a fair decision.”

Russia has been rocked by doping scandals that have seen its entire track and field team banned from international competition and led to calls by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for Russia to be banned from Rio over evidence of state-run doping.

But the IOC on Sunday resisted pressure to do so — to relief in Russia but criticism from many other countries, with the Rio Games less than two weeks away.

Pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda said the IOC had taken the “safest route for itself”.

Others welcomed the IOC decision as a vote of confidence in Russian sport’s ability to clean up its act.

“This is definitely an advance payment — we must now prove to the whole world that our sports people are clean,” Dmitry Svishchev, who heads the lower house of Russian parliament’s sports and physical culture committee, told RBK daily.

Russian media speculated on how individual athletes would compete — whether this would be under the Russian flag and wearing the national team colours.

Russia’s gymnastics team — the first group of Russian athletes to arrive in Rio for the Games — are already training in Brazil, coach Valentina Rodionenko told R-Sport news agency, saying that “the worst is behind us”.

Most Russian competitors will fly out Thursday and will be seen off by Russian Olympic Committee chief Alexander Zhukov, R-Sport reported, although it remains to be seen how many will actually take part in the Games.

Russia’s pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva, who had vowed to end her career if all Russians were banned, wrote on Instagram: “I’m so sad I could cry from my own helplessness in the face of this lawlessness and anarchy.”

The 34-year-old two-time Olympic gold medallist is set to miss out because of the wholesale ban on the Russian track and field team.

Russian media praised the decision not to allow whistleblower Yulia Stepanova, who exposed mass doping in athletics, to compete at Rio.

The 800m runner, whom the IOC banned from participating even as a neutral, “got what was coming to her,” Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote.

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