July 31, 2016 - 7:00 AM
RIO DE JANEIRO - A three-person International Olympic Committee panel will make a final ruling on which individual Russian athletes are allowed to compete in the Rio de Janeiro Games.
The IOC's ruling executive board, meeting Saturday for the final time before the opening of the games next Friday, said the panel will decide on the entry of Russian athletes whose names have been forwarded to compete by their international sports federations and approved by an independent arbitrator.
"This panel will decide whether to accept or reject that final proposal," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. "We want to make it absolutely clear that we are the ones making the final call."
The move comes amid a doping scandal that has led to the exclusion of more than 100 Russian athletes connected to state-sponsored cheating. More than 250 Russian athletes have been cleared to compete by the federations.
The panel will have to make its ruling before the opening ceremony, just six days away.
"We're working on a very, very tight timeline," Adams said. "It has to be finished by Friday at the very latest."
The panel will consist of three executive board members: Turkey's Ugur Erdener, chairman of the IOC medical commission; Germany's Claudia Bokel, head of the athletes' commission; and Spain's Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., a vice-president of the modern pentathlon federation.
Adams said the panel will review every athlete cleared by the federations, but would not reopen the cases of those who have been barred. An arbitrator from the Court of Arbitration for Sport will make an initial ruling before the final decision goes to the IOC panel.
"This review board panel will look at every single decision, every single athlete, to make sure the IOC is happy with the decision that's been taken," Adams said. "It's very important that the IOC makes the final decision based on independent advice."
Saturday's meeting came less than a week after the IOC board decided not to ban Russia's entire team from the games because of state-sponsored doping. Rejecting calls by more than a dozen anti-doping agencies for a complete ban on Russia, the IOC left it to the federations to vet which athletes could compete or not.
The Russians banned so far include the 67 track and field athletes barred as a whole by the IAAF, and more than 30 others rejected under new IOC eligibility criteria. Russia's eight-member weightlifting team was kicked out of the games on Friday for what the international federation called "extremely shocking" doping results that brought the sport into "disrepute."
The IOC has been roundly criticized by anti-doping bodies, athletes groups and Western media for not imposing a total ban on Russia. Pressure for the full sanction followed a World Anti-Doping Agency report by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren that accused Russia's sports ministry of overseeing a vast doping conspiracy involving the country's summer and winter sports athletes.
Bach has defended the decision as one that protects individual athletes who have not been implicated in doping.
Rio's preparations, meanwhile, remain clouded on several fronts, including budget cuts, water pollution, slow ticket sales, and concerns over crime and the Zika virus. The games come with the suspended president awaiting an impeachment trial and the country gripped by a severe recession.
But Bach and the IOC board remained upbeat following a final progress report by organizing committee chief Carlos Nuzman, including details of the opening ceremony at the Maracana stadium.
"We can't reveal any secrets but the organizing committee tell us that the ceremony will have Brazilian soul and enchant the world," Adams said.
Bach gave the organizers a final pep talk ahead of the first games in South America.
"He thinks it's going to be a great games," Adams said. "He made that very, very clear. He gave a very rousing thank you to the team and said, 'Now you must concentrate on delivery, delivery, delivery."
Also Saturday, the IOC board granted full recognition to the International Ski Mountaineering Federation. It had received provisional recognition in 2014. Saturday's decision marks another step toward potential future inclusion in the Winter Games.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016