The International Olympic Committee has approved nearly 400 Russian athletes to participate in the upcoming Winter Games in South Korea despite an official ban on Russia’s Olympic team.
In a statement released Friday, the IOC said its investigators had established a pool of “clean athletes” from which a special committee, known as the Olympic Athlete from Russia Implementation Group, can select Russian participants for the games in PyeongChang.
Of the original pre-registration pool of 500 Russian athletes, 111 were declared ineligible to compete this year. The remaining candidates will be cleared to participate if they pass additional screening such as “further pre-Games tests and reanalysis from stored samples,” the IOC said.
“More than 80 per cent of the athletes in this pool did not compete at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014,” the committee said in a statement. “This shows that this is a new generation of Russian athletes.”
The Russian Olympic team was barred last month from competing in the 2018 Winter Games because of a massive doping scandal across several Olympic games and other international competitions. From 2011 to 2015, at least 1,000 Russian athletes benefited from banned drugs, and Russia has had dozens of Olympic medals stripped for doping-related cheating.
Despite the magnitude of Russia’s cheating, the IOC left open a path for Russian athletes to compete in PyeongChang if they could prove they were clean. Under the restrictions imposed by the ban, approved Russian athletes can compete under the Olympic flag and will be referred to by the acronym OAR: Olympic Athlete from Russia.
Though it did not publish a list of the athletes declared eligible for participation, the IOC emphasized that none of the candidates had been disciplined for cheating at the last Winter Games in Sochi or had been suspended for previous doping violations. The so-called Invitation Review Panel evaluated each athlete’s file anonymously, according to panel chairwoman Dr. Valérie Fourneyron.
“All our decisions were taken by consensus of the Panel for each individual athlete, all of which were reviewed anonymously,” Fourneyron said. “It was not easy to put this list together, but we wanted to be absolutely sure that only clean athletes from Russia can be invited to participate in the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018”
Paul Melia, Canada’s top anti-doping official, criticized the IOC’s secretive review process, saying it was an ineffective deterrent to future cheating by Russian athletes.
“If you wanted to send a strong message that this is absolutely unacceptable, you’re not going to let their athletes come to the next Games,” he said, according to the New York Times.
The IOC said Friday that it will work with the suspended Russian Olympic Committee to determine which clean athletes will fill earned slots by sport, discipline and event. Olympic officials did not project how many Russians would end up competing in PyeongChang, but the large pool of potential candidates means the size of the Russian contingent could match that of the Sochi Games, where Russia fielded about 230 athletes.
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