IOC offering assistance to Russian whistleblowers
LONDON: The Russian husband and wife team who felt betrayed by the IOC after blowing the whistle on state-sponsored doping in their homeland are now being offered financial and other assistance by the Olympic body. The International Olympic Committee said yesterday that it was providing career opportunities to 800-meter runner Yulia Stepanova and her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, a former Russian anti-doping official. Stepanova is being given financial support, while her husband will work as a consultant for the IOC on doping matters, the committee said in a statement to The Associated Press. The couple have been living at an undisclosed location in the United States since providing information to German broadcaster ARD and others that helped expose systematic cheating in Russia.
Their testimony played a central role in the IAAF’s decision to suspend Russia’s track and field federation from global competition and exclude all but one member of its team from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.
The IOC faced harsh criticism after rejecting calls to ban Russia entirely from the games and turning down Stepanova’s application to compete in Rio as an independent athlete.
The couple met with IOC President Thomas Bach in September to discuss the committee’s offer of “assistance in their careers,” the IOC said in an email.
“After the couple reached out to the IOC, Yuliya Stepanova is being given financial and other assistance so that she can continue her sports career and potentially join a national Olympic committee,” the IOC said.
It’s unclear which national Olympic body Stepanova could represent, although the US would be a possibility since the couple have been living there. Her husband, meanwhile, “will be providing a consultancy service to the IOC on all aspects of doping control and the protection of clean athletes,” the statement said. Stepanova was part of the Russian doping system for years and served a two-year drug ban imposed by the IAAF. After she and her husband turned whistleblowers, the IAAF recommended that she be eligible to compete as a neutral athlete.
Stepanova did run as an independent athlete at the European Championships in July, but finished last in her 80-meter heat as she struggled with a foot injury.
The IOC rejected her bid to run at the Olympics, citing her past doping case and saying she did not satisfy the “ethical requirements” to compete at the games. At the time, Vitaly Stepanov labeled the IOC’s offer to bring them to the Olympics to watch the games as VIP guests “a bribe.” Stepanova also criticized the IOC, saying, “They never tried to understand our situation. They simply say whatever is going to serve them.”
The couple said recently they feared for their safety and had switched residences after hackers breached a World Anti-Doping Agency database that records Stepanova’s whereabouts.
Bach said in Rio that the IOC was “not responsible for dangers to which Mrs. Stepanova may be exposed.” —AP