The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on July 24 that it will not impose a blanket ban on Russian athletes at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro following damning reports on the country's doping record, but will leave the decision on these athletes' participation to the relevant individual federations.
The IOC's announcement comes in the wake of a flood of damning reports documenting a widescale, state-sponsored doping program in Russia, and a sophisticated effort to disguise it.
The statement said that international sporting federations "should carry out an individual analysis of each athlete's anti-doping record, taking into account only reliable adequate international tests, and the specificities of the athlete's sport and its rules, in order to ensure a level playing field."
"We had to balance the collective responsibility and the individual justice to which every human being and athlete is entitled to," IOC President Thomas Bach said.
Russian athletes wishing to compete in Rio will be accepted only if they can "provide evidence to the full satisfaction" of their respective international federations that they have never been involved with doping, the IOC statement said.
It added that it will not accept any Russian athletes who have been sanctioned for doping, even if they have already served their punishment for the infraction.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov welcomed the "positive decision" and called for closer cooperation between Russia and the IOC and international sports organizations.
"We welcome the decision to allow the so-called clean athletes to participate in the Olympic Games based on the decisions by individual sports federations," Peskov told journalists on July 25.
The IOC ruling drew criticism from anti-doping officials, who accused the committee of giving Russia a pass despite the evidence of endemic cheating.
Joseph de Pencier, head of the 59-member global Institute of National Anti-Doping Organizations (iNADO), said it was "a sad day for clean sport" and that the IOC "has failed to confront forcefully the findings of evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia corrupting the Russian sport system."
"It has ignored the calls of clean athletes, a multitude of athlete organizations, and of leading National Anti-Doping Organizations, to do the right thing by excluding Russia from the Rio Olympic Games," de Pencier said in a statement.
Moscow 'Grateful' For Decision
The announcement follows the July 18 release of a damning investigative report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) detailing a sophisticated doping program in Russia allegedly orchestrated by the Russian state.
The report, authored by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, said the cheating affected 30 sporting disciplines and was carried out during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, as well as at other major Olympic and international sporting events.
On July 21, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sports rejected arguments from more than 60 Russian track-and-field athletes who were challenging a ban on their participation in the Rio Games.
The athletes, and Russia's track-and-field federation, were banned last month by the governing body of world athletics, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), following reports of state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes.
The IOC's announcement that individual federations would decide the fate of Russian athletes' hoping to compete in Rio followed a teleconference meeting of the organization's 15-member executive board on July 24, less than two weeks before the August 5 opening ceremony in Rio.
Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said following the IOC announcement that Moscow is "grateful" to the governing body "for allowing Russian athletes to enter the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro."
"I am confident that the majority of the Russian national team will be able to meet the criteria presented by the IOC," Mutko was quoted by the state-run TASS news agency as saying.
Russian Olympic Committee chief Aleksandr Zhukov said his committee will not appeal the IOC's decision to ban Russian athletes who have served out their punishments for earlier doping violations.
Zhukov said he did not agree with the decision but that Russia does not "have time enough to do such a thing" like appealing to the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The IOC decision appears to disqualify several top Russian athletes, including swimmer Yulia Yefimova, a world champion in the 100-meter breaststroke, as well as weightlifter Tatyana Kashirina and cyclist Olga Zabelinskaya -- both of whom have previously captured Olympic medals.
All three athletes have previously been hit with doping bans that they have already served.
Zhukov told the IOC in a speech prior to the ruling that its members would be giving into "geopolitical pressure" if it banned all Russian athletes from competing in Rio.
According to the text of the speech, Zhukov said such a ban would be "beyond the bounds of sport" and likened it to jailing the family members and friends of a criminal "just because they knew the criminal or they live in the same town," The Associated Press reported.
"I call on you not to become hostages of geopolitical pressure," the AP quoted Zhukov as saying in his remarks.
Russian Whistle-Blower Denied
While the IAAF had previously approved whistle-blowing Russian middle-distance runner Yulia Stepanova to compete in Rio as a neutral athlete, the IOC said on July 24 that it had ruled out her participation due in part to "ethical" failings.
Stepanova was a world-class 800-meter runner before she and her husband, drug-testing official Vitaly Stepanov, gave evidence to WADA of systematic doping in Russian track and field and of complicity by officials in covering it up.
The IOC said in its statement that Stepanova's testimony and public statements "have made a contribution to the protection and promotion of clean athletes, fair play, and the integrity and authenticity of sport."
But it added that "recognition of the status of a neutral athlete" runs counter to the rules of the Olympic Charter, and that the doping sanctions she had faced and the circumstances of her whistle-blowing "do not satisfy the ethical requirements for an athlete to enter the Olympic Games."
The IOC added, however, that Stepanova and her husband would be invited to attend the Rio Games.
Russian pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, a two-time Olympic champion, welcomed the IOC's decision to ban Stepanova, who has been vilified as a traitor by Russian officials, fans, and media.
Isinbayeva, who has been prevented from competing in Rio under the ban imposed by the IAAF, told Russia's R-Sport agency on July 24 that "at least one wise decision on track and field has been taken" by the IOC and called for Stepanova to be "banned for life."
Both de Pencier of iNADO and the top U.S. anti-doping official criticized the IOC for banning Stepanova from Rio, saying the decision sets a dangerous precedent for whistle-blowers.
"To refuse her entry in to the Games is incomprehensible and will undoubtedly deter whistle-blowers in the future from coming forward," Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), said in a statement.
Zhukov was quoted by Russian news agencies as confirming that Russian long-jumper Darya Klishina will be the only Russian track-and-field athlete to compete in Rio.
The IAAF previously excluded Klishina from the ban because she is based in Florida and for years has been subjected to testing by the U.S. anti-doping agency.
Within hours of the IOC's announcement on July 24, meanwhile, the International Tennis Federation issued a statement giving the go-ahead for all eight Russian tennis players nominated to compete in Rio, saying they had been subjected to "a rigorous anti-doping testing program outside Russia."
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, and TASS