President Vladimir Putin will meet Russia’s dwindling Olympic team on Wednesday as the list of its athletes banned from the Rio Games over revelations of state-run doping soared above 100.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) sparked fierce criticism on Sunday when it resisted a blanket ban in favour of allowing individual sports federations to make the call on which Russians can go to Rio.
International sports federations are now scrambling to vet Russian athletes as time ticks down to the start of the Games on August 5.
Putin, who has made sporting success a priority in a bid to harness national pride, is set to meet the Russian team in a ceremony at the Kremlin before the influential head of the country’s Orthodox Church blesses those due to set off to Rio on Thursday.
Russia’s track and field team was already banned from Rio over state-sponsored doping, but its Olympic Committee last week optimistically named a 387-strong squad for the Games.
However, since the IOC decision at the weekend, the number of Russian competitors allowed to take part has steadily decreased.
Rowing’s international governing body FISA was the latest to get tough with Russia, announcing late on Tuesday that 22 of 28 Russian competitors had been banned under strict criteria imposed by the IOC.
That took the number of Russian athletes banned since Sunday to 41, in addition to the 67 track and field athletes already banned by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
The head of Russia’s trampolining federation, Nikolai Makarov, told TASS news agency Wednesday that he had received “verbal permission” from the sport’s international authorities that the team will be allowed to compete.
Sixteen Russians from its fencing team have also been cleared, the sport’s governing body said.
– Last-gasp appeals –
Controversially, among the Russians banned is Yuliya Stepanova, the 800m runner who lifted the lid on systematic doping and corruption in Russian athletics.
Stepanova, who fled Russia and is reviled by many back home, is making one last-gasp appeal of her IOC ban.
Her inclusion is backed by the IAAF and many anti-doping officials, who have praised her whistleblowing efforts, but was nixed by an IOC ethics commission.
Four-time world breaststroke champion Yulia Efimova also plans to appeal her ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The IOC has received praise from Russia but stinging criticism from elsewhere for failing to impose a total ban on the country over shocking evidence of a state-organised system to cheat.
Germany’s Olympic discus champion Robert Harting on Tuesday launched a verbal attack on IOC president Thomas Bach, calling his compatriot “part of the doping system not the anti-doping system”.
Bach fired back that the decision to leave individual sports federations to decide which Russians could compete “respects the right of every clean athlete around the world,” noting that would-be Russian Olympians must clear “the highest hurdles” to make the Games.
A report this month by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) detailed an elaborate doping system in Russia directed by the sports ministry that affected more than 30 sports over four years.