Russian anti-doping whistle-blower barred from competing at Rio

Yuliya Stepanova (Reuters)
Yuliya Stepanova (Reuters)

The lifting of the ban on Russian athletes at this year's Olympic Games has ironically resulted in one of the country's strongest anti-doping voices being barred from competing.

In 2014, middle-distance runner Yuliya Stepanova and her husband Vitaliy - an ex-employee of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency - blew the whistle on Russia's state-sanctioned drug cheating.

Despite having been banned once before for doping, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) approved her application to compete in Rio as a neutral athlete, for her "truly exceptional contribution to the fight against doping in sport".

But overnight, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said while it would leave it up to each sport's governing body to decide whether to let athletes compete, no Russians who have been sanctioned for doping in the past would be allowed to compete - even if they're now clean.

The IOC even singled out Stepanova, saying "the sanction to which she was subject and the circumstances in which she denounced the doping practices which she had used herself, do not satisfy the ethical requirements for an athlete to enter the Olympic Games".

Former Kiwi Olympian Dick Quax, who won silver in the 5000m in Montreal in 1976, says the IOC's ruling "is very disappointing".

"Stepanova would have been able to compete if the Russians had been banned. She will not be able to compete now," he told Paul Henry on Monday.

Countries can only compete at the invitation of the IOC, which has shunned nations in the past.

"Immediately after World War II for example, Germany and Japan were not invited to the Olympics," says Quax. "In 1964 South Africa, because of apartheid, had their invitation withdrawn."

He's pleased the IAAF is upholding its ban on the official Russian Olympic team - which doesn't include Stepanova, who now lives in the US - but wishes the IOC had taken a stronger stand.

"This is the showcase of sport in the world, and this would have been an opportunity to say to people, we do not tolerate drug-taking in sport. What they've said is actually, we kind of tolerate it now."

Even with the safeguards against Russian doping in place, he says athletes from other countries will be suspicious.

"They'll be looking at [Russian athletes] sideways and thinking, am I competing against a clean athlete?"

Stepanova fled Russia after President Vladimir Putin called her a "Judas".

The Rio Games start on August 5.