Yesterday morning our time, we were informed by the IOC Director General, Mr. Christophe de Kepper, about the decision of the IOC EB to not allow Yuliya to compete at the Olympic Games in Rio. The decision was also transmitted in writing as follows: https://www.olympic.org/news/decision-of-the-ioc-executive-board-concerning-the-participation-of-russian-athletes-in-the-olympic-games-rio-2016
We would like to react to this decision as follows.
1. Wrong and untrue statements
The decision is unfair as based on wrong and untrue statements. Especially, the statement “Since Mrs Stepanova declined to compete as a member of the ROC Team, the IOC EB had to consider the question of whether an exception to the rules of the Olympic Charter is possible and appropriate.” does not reflect reality. In the telephone interview with the Ethics Committee last week Yuliya specifically confirmed that she is prepared to compete as part of a Russian team. The transcript (the interview was conducted in Russian and French) of the recording as of minute 49 reads as follows (the sound file is available under this link: https://we.tl/0PMRdPrqYP)
- IOC Ethics Commission: “Would you accept, under the hypothesis that the Russian national Olympic Committee would accept it on their side, to compete as part of the Russian national team?”
- Yuliya Stepanova: “The Russian committee has made an official declaration that I will not be part of the Russian national team, that the Russian athletes don’t wish to participate to the Games with me and to be in the same team with me. For this reason, I have really a hard time conceiving that this decision could change. However, if the Russian Olympic Committee says that it will support me, that it wishes that I am part of the Russian team, I would accept this, with the Russian athletes, as when I have said all that I knew, I did not wish to harm the other athletes, on the contrary I wished to make the sport more clean. I am not against the Russian athletes, I support them with all my heart, I am sorry for them because they are part of this system, they cannot escape it. If I had such an authorisation, yes, yes, I would be happy to be in the Russian national team.”
We assumed that there would be no chance that Yuliya could compete as part of the Russian team based on the statements made by the Russian sports authorities such as the following by
- Mr. Zhukov's (Russian Olympic Committee President) on 21 June, 2016: "She (Stepanova) cannot compete under the Russian flag. Russian Olympic Committee sends athletes to the Olympiad."( tass.ru/sport/3388085)
- Mr. Shlyakhtin (President of Russian Athletics Federation) on 21 July, 2016: "I do not think of Stepanova that she is a Russian athlete, so only Klishina will go (speaking about the Olympics-2016)" - Said Shlyakhtin by phone. (http://rsport.ru/rio2016_athletics/20160721/9930816)
However, Yuliya made it absolutely clear that this was not based on her wish to not compete under the Russian flag, but rather on the hostile treatment and threats she had received since December 2014 up to yesterday. In fact these are some of the latest quotes from 24 July 2016: rsport.ru/rio2016_athletics/20160724/997661342.html
Mr. Shlyakhtin: «It is correct that Stepanova was not allowed [to compete in Rio]. I support this decision.» rsport.ru/rio2016_athletics/20160724/997711895.html
Yelena Isinbayeva: "As for Stepanova, the matter is that she should never have been allowed back into sports. She must be banned for life….I do not understand why such a fuss about a person who used doping and was banned for it. And to make her look like of hero - a stupid spit in the faces of all of us. So the fact that she will not perform at the Olympics is correct. At least one wise decision with regard to athletics was made! "
But also, the statement in the IOC media release “It put this contribution into the perspective of Mrs Stepanova’s own long implication, of at least five years, in this doping system and the timing of her whistle-blowing, which came after the system did not protect her any longer following a positive test for which she was sanctioned for doping for the first time.” must be rejected. The IAAF charged Yuliya with blood-doping in January 2013 (officially ARAF informed her about it on 8 Feb, 2013), and she immediately accepted a two year ban, and served it in full, ending in January 2015. In February 2013, she sent a 10 page truthful statement to WADA in which she admitted that from 2007 to 2012 she took prohibited substance, including steroids and EPO. And, she also apologised for her use of doping and explained how she never tested positive, as she was part of the system that covered up doping use. Her abundant use of doping over five years has hence never been documented through a positive test, but rather through a statement to WADA that she made out of her free will and which is now being held against her as a long-term user of prohibited substances.
Also allow us to ask where Yuliya was supposed to go to and complain about doping use in Russia? The Russian Ministry of Sports, The Russian Athletics Federation , the Russian Police, The FSB, RUSADA? All of those organizations were involved in cover ups. The only appropriate place of providing the information was WADA, to which organization Vitaly had already started to provide information as of 2010, unfortunately with no success. It took the ARD documentary of Mr. Hajo Seppelt to start any action in December 2014. In fact the Russian doping system continued to protect Yuliya when she was sanctioned, as even the Russian Police continued to pay a salary to Yuliya in order to make sure she and other athletes do not expose the existing state organized corrupt system of doping use. The IOC Ethics commission could have known this, had it taken the time and made the effort to go through the relevant documents.
2. Motivation for whistle-blowing
The IOC decision calls in to question the motives for our, especially Yuliya's whistle-blowing, which came after she herself was sanctioned for a doping offense. The IOC decision ignored two key facts: Yuliya did not ask for a reduced sanction under the WADA Code (to which she was entitled) for her substantial efforts to expose Russia's state-sponsored doping program. She insisted on serving the full ban, as she accepted responsibility for her actions despite the fact that as an athlete in a state-sponsored doping system, she had little choice but to comply.
Second, Yuliya has been interviewed exhaustively numerous times by officials of the WADA and IAAF, all of whom found her motivations and information provided to be sincere and fully credible and that the injury to her life and athletic career for whistle-blowing inured to the benefit of the international sporting community and to her considerable personal detriment. As an athlete, who is fully qualified to compete under IAAF rules, Yuliya asked to compete in Rio not to receive an extraordinary benefit, but to simply restore her to the position she would have been in had she never exposed Russia's systemic doping program. The IAAF and European Athletics recognised this and Yuliya was invited to the European Championships in athletics in Amsterdam at the beginning of July.
Not only WADA, IAAF and EA appreciated our motives. A week ago the German Doping Victims Aid (Doping Opfer Hilfe e.V.) awarded Yuliya the German Anti-Doping Award. It is a very unique distinction as it comes from an organisation born out of the experience of many former East-German athletes and hence also victims of state-sponsored doping. Ines Geipel, Chair of the DOH said: “The DOH honours Yuliya Stepanova as an active athlete with exemplary civil courage and a clear attitude, who dared dreaming her dream of a self-determined sport without deception and cheating regardless of her personal risk.”
3. Non-eligibility due to a former doping ban
Yuliya's status as an athlete who was formerly sanctioned for doping has no ethical or legal relevance to the decision on her application to compete, as the WADA Code fully contemplates athletes returning to competition following a sanction for doping. The CAS has previously ruled on this issue against the IOC (Rule 45 Case) in 2012, making it clear that imposing an additional ban on athletes for a previous doping violation is not permitted.
The IOC's focus on Yuliya's past sanction for doping shifts the spotlight away from the real issue, which is that the IOC took no action against Russia for punishing Yuliya for being a credible whistle-blower by refusing to put her on Russia's Olympic team. At no point did the IOC, unlike the IAAF, demand publicly from the Russian sports authorities that they recognise our whistle-blowing as an important and valuable contribution for clean sport in Russia. This amounts to political discrimination in direct violation of the Olympic Charter and was nowhere mentioned in the IOC's decision.
4. Olympic Charter
Contrary to the IOC's statement, we are of the clear opinion that the rules of the Olympic Charter do not prevent the IOC from recognizing athletes, who are not entered by an NOC. The recently named "Refugee Olympic Team" is one such example.
5. Discouraging whistle-blowers
By denying Yuliya the ability to compete in Rio while simultaneously inviting her to view the competition from the sidelines, the IOC sent a strong message to all athletes that if they expose doping, they will lose their opportunity to compete in the Olympic Games.
In the interview with the Ethics Commission, Yuliya made the following statement (transcript of recording as of 52 minutes 25 seconds; recording see above): “I would really like to go to the Olympic Games. This would be all my joy. These might be the only Olympics in which I can participate. And if I could go there, it would prove to me that I had taken the right decision and it would show an example to the other athletes that may find themselves in a similar situation as I was that it is necessary to say the truth, that one needs to fight the system. It would show that if they act with good intentions, they will be listened to and even the IOC will support them.”
If the IOC intends to support us, this should not happen through an invitation to the Rio Games as guests, but rather through a steadfast support of all whistle-blowers fighting for clean sport.
6. Thank you
Our story has proven true and the WADA Commission of Prof. McLaren has confirmed that the situation in Russia was and is as bad as we had described it.
Yuliya is sorry for the past mistakes and regrets doping and not speaking up sooner. She was made to believe that doping was part of elite athlete training and was the only way to become an international level athlete. As the report released by Professor McLaren, doping was part of the Russian sports culture. We thought that all athletes did it. She has and would like to continue to apologize to clean athletes for her past mistakes. But she hopes that with her actions over the past 3 ½ years she showed that she has changed.
While Yuliya is disappointed that she will not be able to compete in Rio, she remains grateful that the IAAF has declared her eligible to compete as a neutral athlete in other competitions, and she looks forward to resuming her career as an athlete fully committed to clean sport.
Thank you to all the people that believed in us and to all those that supported and still support us. We are especially touched by the great number of individuals and organisations that support us through the crowdfunding www.future-stepanov.com
Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov, 25 July 2016
Dear Mr. De Kepper,
Thank you for your mail below of 29 July 2016.
We regret that we have to continue this exchange as we had hoped that in our previous correspondence we were able to show our good faith on one hand and to identify the clearly erroneous statements that were made in the IOC media statement. Yet, it seems that even more clarification is needed, which we are happy to give as follows.
According to your mail “It was explained very clearly to the IOC Executive Board that the Ethics Commission took the various information that you shared with them into consideration in order to finalise its advice.” We of course accept that the Ethics Commission has given this information to the IOC EB. What astonishes us is that this information seems to not have been reviewed and checked after our last e-mail. The Ethics Commission has either on purpose and or by negligence not given the IOC EB a full and correct report. We still refute the statements of the Ethics Commission. We have addressed the issues in our previous correspondence and will not repeat the same information again, but rather will focus on the points that your raise in your e-mail.
Request to compete as a neutral athlete
You state: “In your official request dated 5 July 2016, you asked the IOC to enter into the Olympic Games as a “neutral athlete” and not as a Russian athlete. I understood that during the hearing, the possibility of the Russian Olympic Committee taking you as part the Russian Olympic Team was discussed. However, you did not change your request to be entered into the Olympic Games as a neutral athlete, which was then the only option considered in the advice by the IOC Ethics Commission. This specific request was the basis of the study by the IOC Ethics Commission. It was also the one and only reason for initiating the study because such a request requires an exception from to the Olympic Charter.”
On 1 July 2016 Mr. Jean Gracia, Secretary General of the IAAF, advised you that Yuliya was allowed to compete under neutral flag under IAAF and has been advised to send her application as a neutral athlete to the IOC, which needs to decide on the invitation to the Games in Rio. On 5 July, Yuliya applied for this invitation. Both letters are attached. Specifically, Yuliya asked indeed to compete as neutral athlete: “This letter is to kindly ask you to accept me as a neutral competitor at the Olympic Games in Rio. I am of course prepared to run under any flag that you decide, whether IOC or IAAF or any other neutral flag.”
During the hearing with the IOC Ethics Commission, Yuliya was given the opportunity to clarify why she has asked for an invitation as a neutral athlete and not as a Russian athlete, namely because the Russian Athletics Federation and the Russian Olympic Committee, through their two respective Presidents, made it clear that Yuliya will not be nominated for the Games by either of these Federations. Yet, as this was suddenly mentioned as an option in the hearing, Yuliya immediately confirmed that she would compete under Russian flag if this was the option she was given. On 22 July, Mr. Jean Gracia, wrote an e-mail to you (please see below) with the following explicit content: With specific regard to Mrs Stepanova’s application, it is very clear that the ROC has refused and will continue to refuse to submit her entry to the IOC, both as a Neutral Athlete and as a representative of the Russian Federation. The IAAF understandsthat Mrs Stepanova personally confirmed as much to the IOC Ethics Commission this week. The only option available for Mrs Stepanova therefore is to apply directly to the IOC to compete as a Neutral Athlete, as she did in her letter to the IOC President by e-mail dated 5 July 2016.” Mr. Gracia made it clear that there is no option for Yuliya to compete as a Russian athlete, but that the IAAF fully supports her application as a neutral athlete. Had anybody at the IOC told us that the minutes of an official hearing of the Ethics Commission are not sufficient to officially support a position, we would have clarified that Yuliya would have been ready to compete under Russian flag as well. Unfortunately, nobody told us that this kind of formal procedure was necessary on top of the hearing.
Finally, while the IOC EB stated that Yuliya would not be granted an invitation to compete as a neutral because she, like other Russian athletes, was part of the state-dictated doping system, the EB did not likewise consider that by denying her a place on the Russian team, and forcing her to apply as a neutral athlete, Russia was punishing Yuliya for exposing the state-dictated doping system perpetuated by Russia. Yuliya's testimony in this regard was found to be fully credible. Nevertheless, the EB did not explain why such a punishment is in keeping with the Olympic Charter and is consistent with the IOC's promise to clean athletes.
Non-eligibility as a Russian athlete
You state: “When establishing the eligibility criteria for Russian athletes to compete at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, the IOC Executive Board agreed on the policy that “no Russian athlete with a doping sanction can be entered for the Olympic Games Rio 2016, even if the sanction has been completed.””
On one hand, the IOC is telling us that Yuliya should not have applied as a neutral athlete, but rather as Russian athlete. On the other hand, the IOC is then telling us that as a Russian athlete, Yuliya would have been treated as any other Russian athlete and hence would have not been able to compete in Rio. In Yuliya’s case, this is absolutely not possible. As the e-mail of Mr. Gracia below precises, it is not for the IOC to decide on the eligibility of track and field athletes for the Games in rio. The CAS made it clear that for track athletes only the IAAF is responsible to decide on the eligibility. Hence, would Yuliya have been nominated as a Russian athlete, she could have competed, as the decision of the CAS on this matter supersedes the IOC ruling on the Russian athletes previously banned. Also, we would like to indicate that the “Osaka Ruling” of the CAS made it clear that previously banned athletes that have taken care of their sentence cannot be re-banned for Olympic Games.
Thank you for taking good note of our response on the invitation to Rio.
In your latest letter you mentioned a scholarship. We looked at all the correspondence again, but have not been able to find anything on this topic.
Re-evaluation of the matter
Dear Mr. De Kepper, we are constantly solicited by media, to give them information about our discussions with the IOC. We trust that it is also in the IOC’s best interest that we always make available to the media copies of our exchanges as this avoids any misunderstandings on wordings or quotes. And we would herewith once more like to ask the IOC EB to re-assess the decision on Yuliya. As we have been able to show in our previous mail, there have been mistakes and ommissions by the Ethics Commissions. And, we trust that we have been able to clarify in this mail, and as was stated previously and in the hearing of the Etics Commission, that Yuliya is prepared to run under flag the IOC decides. Finally, we trust that we could also clarify that the IOC ruling on previously banned Russian athletes does not apply to Yuliya as she was declared eligible to run and this eligibility is protected by CAS rulings. This leaves only the statement of the Ethics Commission that Yuliya is from an ethical point of view not worthy an invitation to compete at the Games. We do not share this view and are sure that if the IOC EB takes just a few minutes to look into the files of WADA and IAAF, it will agree that through her action and behaviour Yuliya has fully earned the respect to be invited. And it is not just our opinion. May we bring to your attention the petition of Mr. Kaj Beuter in Germany, who we did not know and who did not stand in any kind of relations with us or anybody assisting us, that has in the meantime collected well over 60’000 signatures of people that ask for Yuliya to be able to compete and the numbers are growing by the hour: https://www.change.org/u/44171830
Thank you for forwarding this to the IOC EB and letting us know what the review has generated for results at your earliest convenience.
Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov