Russian Whistleblower is “Exceptionally Eligible” for Competition

Amid Russia’s widespread doping scandal and in the face of the Russian athletes ban, one particular athlete received a reprieve. Yuliya Stepanova, a Russian track athlete, will be allowed to run as a “neutral athlete” in the European Championships and potentially compete in the 2016 Olympics.

Stepanova and her husband, Vitaly, exposed the scale of the Russian team’s systemic doping scheme. Vitaly worked as an official in the Russian Anti-Doping Agency. In 2011, Stepanova was banned from international competition following abnormalities in her “biological passport.” She was suspended from the sport for two years. Following the suspension, the Stepanovas worked with German journalist Hajo Seppolt and secretly taped athletes and coaches discussing doping.

Last month, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) maintained a ban of Russian athletes from global competition. However, the IAAF created the “exceptional eligibility” rule that works as an exemption of the ban. An athlete who has made a “truly exceptional contribution to the protection and promotion of clean athletes” can be exempted from any team ban. More than 80 Russians have applied for exemption from Russian’s ban. According to the IAAF, only athletes “who are individually cleared to compete will be able to go to Rio.” Applicants must email evidence proving clean anti-doping records. The deadline to apply was July 4, and decisions will likely by July 18, two weeks before the start of Rio.

The IAAF doping review board voted unanimously to accept Stepanova’s application for exemption. According to its statement, “Stepavanova is now eligible to compete in international competitions as an independent neutral athlete.” However, this is not the end of the road for Stepanova. Her “participation as a neutral athlete in international competition is still subject to acceptance by the organizer of the competition.” Stepanova is the first athlete to be exempted.

Rio 2016 presents a conundrum for the international community. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the IAAF “have been at odds” over decisions related to the Russian doping scandal. There are questions of how and if athletes will be represented, once they are screened. The IOC’s response to exempting Stepanova is that it had “taken note.” Currently, the IOC has not suspended the Russian Olympic Committee — potentially meaning that athletes will compete under the Russian flag.

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