Russia at Rio risks harming Olympic movement - Australia


A woman walks into the head office for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in Montreal, November 9, 2015. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The Australian government has criticised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for rejecting a blanket ban on Russian athletes at the Rio de Janeiro Games, saying their participation risks damaging the reputation of the Olympic movement.

The IOC rejected calls for Russia to be banned from next month's Games over its doping record on Sunday, putting the onus on international sports federations to decide whether individual athletes should be allowed to compete.

The decision has been endorsed by some national Olympic committees but drew criticism from athletes and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which said it would "inevitably lead to ... lesser protection for clean athletes."

Australian sports minister Sussan Ley said it was a "horrifying thought" that clean athletes might not be able to compete on a level playing field at Rio.

"I'm very disappointed," Ley, a member of WADA's executive committee, told reporters at a media conference in Sydney on Monday.

"For many of us, sport is something we anticipate in at amateur level, we watch and enjoy and talk about, but for our athletes going to the Olympics, this is something they've given their heart and soul to every day.

"Getting up in the dark, training, trying to get to the extra centimetre, harder, faster, longer, and to think there may not be a level playing field to compete at either Rio or a world championship event, it is a horrifying thought."

Ley said anything less than a blanket ban, as recommended by WADA and urged by national anti-doping agencies across the globe, could harm the Games' integrity.

"I maintain the view that any actions less than what WADA has recommended at this critical point in time risks Rio being overshadowed by a contagious suspicion of compromised integrity and damaging the reputation of the Olympic movement," she said, reading from a prepared statement.

'HOT POTATO'

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), whose president John Coates is also an IOC vice-president, backed the IOC decision in a statement out of Rio on Sunday.

Ley, however, said she would urgently seek the AOC's reassurance that Australian athletes would not be "negatively impacted or unfairly disadvantaged by this decision."

International sports federations have less than two weeks to decide whether to allow Russian athletes to compete at the Aug. 5-21 Games.

"Clearly it’s going to be very difficult for the international federations in the 12 days before Rio to go through what they need to rule in or out athletes, in terms of resources and in terms of time," Ley added.

The IOC decision was endorsed by the national Olympic committee of neighbouring New Zealand, which said the international body had taken the "strongest possible measures".

But the country's national anti-doping agency was scathing.

"The decision of the IOC to not take matters into their own hands but pass on the hot potato to International Federations shows a lack of will to back the core principles of their organisation with hard decisions," said Drug Free Sport New Zealand chief executive Graeme Steel.

"Many international federations will have neither the time nor capacity to make the quick and clear decisions necessary let alone do it in a consistent way," added Steel.

After last week's release of the WADA-instigated McLaren Report, which confirmed allegations of Russian state-sponsored doping at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, IOC President Thomas Bach said his committee would not hesitate to take "the toughest sanctions available".

"Looking back on what President Bach was saying originally, I was expecting a little tougher penalty," Japan Olympic Committee director Ichiro Hoshino said in comments published by Kyodo news agency on Monday.

"I infer that in reality he had to settle for the verdict after taking everything into account."

(Additional reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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