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NEWS FEATURE Dismay over IOC decision to bar whistleblower Stepanova from Games By John Bagratuni, dpa

Europe
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The decision by the IOC to ban Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova from the Rio Games has not gone down well in the sports and anti-doping community.

Berlin (dpa) - World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) director Olivier Niggli was very clear when he voiced his disappointment that Yulia Stepanova has been denied a place at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

"WADA is very concerned by the message that this sends whistleblowers for the future," he said late Sunday.

"Ms Stepanova was instrumental in courageously exposing the single biggest doping scandal of all time."

The 800-metre runner Stepanova and her husband, a former anti-doping agency staff member, were key witnesses in a German television documentary from December 2014 which for the first time exposed wide-ranging doping practices in Russia.

While banning the Russian athletics team from Rio, the ruling athletics body IAAF granted her permission to run as a neutral athlete at events including Rio, owing to her "truly exceptional contribution to the fight against doping in sport."

But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Sunday barred her from Rio because, by recommendation of the IOC ethics committee, she did "not satisfy the ethical requirements for an athlete to enter the Olympic Games," having been a part of the Russian doping system for several years and sanctioned for doping herself.

"The IOC missed an opportunity to send a signal," German athletics chief Clemens Prokop said, and German parliamentary sports commission chair Dagmar Freitag spoke of the "Stepanova ruling, they didn‘t want to see the whistleblower run there."

Inconsistencies were duly noted as the IOC also said that all other Russians with a doping past are also not allowed into Rio - while those with a similar record from other countries, such as American sprinter Justin Gatlin, can compete.

According to British paper The Guardian, this only further suggested that the IOC‘s refusal to impose a blanket ban on Russia had sports and geopolitical reasons, with IOC president Thomas Bach also a friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and Russia opposed from the outset to a participation of Stepanova in Rio.

The Guardian said the ban of Stepanova "created the unfortunate impression that perhaps the most significant whistleblowers in sporting history had been chucked under a bus in favour of placating Vladimir Putin."

Stepanova, 30, who now lives in the United States, was invited with her husband to Rio by the IOC to attend the Games in honour of her contribution, a decision seen as cynical by some while Bach also claimed the IOC was offering to help her in her future life as an athlete.

Whether she would have been able to run remains unclear as she injured herself in early July in the 800m heat at the European championships in Amsterdam.

For American anti-doping chief Travis Tygart, the decision to deny Stepanova added to his dismay over the overall decision, and was also not a good sign for the future.

"The decision to refuse her entry into the Games is incomprehensible and will undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward," Tygart said.

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