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NEWS FEATURE «Rio, here we come!» How Russia salvaged its entry into the Olympics By Wolfgang Jung

Europe
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Russia is relieved that a far-reaching doping scandal has not led to a complete ban from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Moscow media are sure that behind the good news are the strong ties between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and a German Olympic president.

Moscow (dpa) - As the sporting world grinds its teeth, Russia celebrates. "Rio, here we come!" a Moscow headline reads. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has decided that despite far-reaching doping allegations, Russia will not be completely banned from the upcoming Games in Rio de Janeiro.

And Russia‘s media leave no doubt whom the sporting superpower should thank first: Thomas Bach, the German president of the IOC. "Bach says, let‘s go!" reads another headline in the widely circulated tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets.

A state-run doping programme? Where? A day after the IOC‘s decision, the serious violations of the past matter little in the Russian media. They are outweighed by the triumphant feeling of having succeeded despite all the hurdles to entering Rio.

"The athletes will depart on Thursday," Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said. Bach was under considerable pressure in recent weeks to ban Russia, "but he has resisted," Zhukov said, praising the IOC chief.

Internationally, the situation is viewed quite differently, with Bach criticized for delegating the responsibility. Bach has left it up to athletics associations to decide upon excluding individual athletes for doping.

Russia‘s Sport Minister Vitaly Mutko has called the criteria "extremely hard," but he is still confident: "The majority of the Russian athletes will go to Rio."

Moscow media have often speculated about a close friendship between Bach and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Hardly anyone in the world‘s sporting community is as well connected as Putin.

The president of the German Athletics Association, Clemens Prokop, reacted to the IOC decision with disbelief. Bach had stood for the toughest sanctions against doping, until now.

Putin, a former state intelligence chief, has once again proved himself as a shrewd tactician, according to a commentary aired by the Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy: "The Kremlin has been able to present mass doping as a case of individual indiscretions."

There was no state-run doping programme for the 2014 Winter Olympics, which Russia hosted in the city of Sochi, Mutko said. There were only "individual failings." Many experts find this hard to believe, considering how regulated Russia can be.

And few consider that a newly established anti-doping commission will ensure clean athletics. The commission‘s head, 81-year-old Vitaly Smirnov, is viewed more as a former Soviet functionary than a guarantor of openness.

Much attention in Moscow is now on the fate of whistleblower Yulia Stepanova, a mid-distance runner who was caught doping and then exposed her countrymen. The IOC surprisingly excluded her from Rio, because she did "not satisfy the ethical requirements for an athlete to enter the Olympic Games."

Stepanova, who fled to the United States in recent years, had been expected to compete at the Games as an independent athlete, to much criticism in her home country.

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