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Russian Athletes Await Decision On Status To Compete In Rio Olympics


The opening of the Olympic Games in Rio is Friday night with the first events on Saturday. But sports officials are still figuring out which Russian athletes can compete. This is all part of the huge Russian doping scandal that we've been hearing about in the past few weeks. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is in Rio watching the story, and he's with me now. Hey, Tom.


MCEVERS: OK, so just remind us why the situation exists with all of these Russian athletes waiting for this last-minute thumbs up or thumbs down.

GOLDMAN: So The New York Times, "60 Minutes" produced these big stories on widespread state-sponsored doping in Russia. The World Anti-Doping Agency commissioned a report after that. And the report was released last month, and that confirmed the bad situation. As a result, there were lots of calls to ban the entire Russian team from Rio. But the International Olympic Committee decided not to, it said because a blanket ban would hurt the clean athletes who do exist in Russia, I should add.

So the IOC instead told individual sports federations to pore over the doping records for each Russian athlete and make recommendations on who should be out and who should be in.

MCEVERS: OK, so that's what's been going on up to now. What's the latest on who is and who isn't?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, it's a very fluid situation with some federations still trying to vet a number of athletes. One Russian official I spoke to said that process could be finished as early as tomorrow but more realistically by Thursday, the day before the opening ceremony. And the latest estimates are over a hundred Russian athletes have been banned, and around 250 are still waiting for final approval.

And on top of that, some of those who were banned have appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which has set up office here in Rio. So we're also waiting on whether those appeals are going to be successful or not. This is not your average week before the Olympics, Kelly. This is an unprecedented moment of confusion and anxiety.

MCEVERS: It must be really frustrating for these Russian athletes while they sit and wait. Have you talked to any of them?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. I haven't been able to get to any of them yet, but I did today talk to the Russian Olympic team press attache, a man named Konstantin Vybornov, and I asked him about the Russian athletes. For those banned, not surprisingly, he said there are many, many tears and broken hopes. For those in limbo, Vybornov says they are here in Rio, and they're training.

KONSTANTIN VYBORNOV: They have no choice. They need to be a hundred percent fit and ready to start. If the decision will be positive for them, they will go, and they will start. If it will be negative, so they will go home. But at the moment they need to be in the maximum shape. They must be fit and ready to compete.

GOLDMAN: That's Konstantin Vybornov, the Russian press attache for the Russian Olympic team. Now, he says it's a nervous time for these athletes who still don't know what's going to happen. I should add he acknowledges that Russia has problems with doping, but - and this has been the official party line all along - he says there still isn't proof of widespread state-sponsored doping. As an aside, most agree there is.

And Vybornov also says there's been a lot of politics at play, especially with all the entities who are clamoring for a blanket ban on the Russian Olympic team.

MCEVERS: I understand there's a separate issue going on between Olympic officials and anti-doping advocates over who's at fault for this situation happening so close to the start of the games.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, this is kind of a smack down between the IOC and WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency. The IOC has basically thrown WADA under the bus, saying it was WADA's fault because WADA dragged its feet in investigating claims of Russian doping which were out there for several years. WADA fired back - no, it's acted quickly throughout and that it took time to gather and corroborate evidence. So you've got these two entities who were supposed to be in charge of controlling doping going at each other at a really bad time.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman in Rio de Janeiro. Thank you.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on