RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee defended his support of the decision not to ban Russia’s entire team from the Rio Games, framing it as a done deal by the time he weighed in on it, and a stance that received wide support among athletes.
Chairman Larry Probst was among the 84 International Olympic Committee members who, at president Thomas Bach’s urging, gave approval to the IOC executive committee’s call to let individual sports federations review the athletes’ doping pasts and determine which Russians could compete.
At a USOC news conference Friday, Probst echoed Bach in saying the decision had wide support among athletes, including all eight athlete representatives on the IOC.
But athlete support in Probst’s home country was far from unanimous. Sarah Konrad, the chair of the USOC athletes’ advisory council, told The Associated Press, “I think the IOC made the wrong decision.”
“They should’ve shown stronger leadership and banned the entire Russian delegation,” Konrad said. “To punt to the (sports federations) was ridiculous.”
Probst quoted another IOC member, Dick Pound, an outspoken anti-doping advocate who also rubber-stamped the decision, saying “the arrow has left the bow” by the time the full IOC was asked to show support.
“The decision was made,” Probst said. “What Thomas asked of the session was, ‘Do you support the decision?’ The decision was not going to be changed.”
Only one IOC member raised his hand in opposition to Bach’s question: Britain’s Adam Pengilly, whose term on the committee ends after these Olympics.
The World Anti-Doping Agency was among several anti-doping groups that called for the complete ban of all Russia’s 389 athletes. Bach went against that recommendation, citing the “concept of individual justice” to justify the call to hand over the decisions to the sports. On Thursday night, about 24 hours before the opening ceremony, the IOC confirmed that 271 Russian athletes had been cleared to compete.
Probst reiterated what he said in Tuesday’s IOC meeting — that the anti-doping system is in need of repair, and that the problem goes deeper than Russia.
“A complicated and difficult decision with no perfect solution,” he called it.
It was a sparsely attended news conference, held at the same time that French President Francois Hollande was also speaking to the media in a room on the other side of the building. Hollande is promoting the Paris bid for the 2024 Olympics.
Also in that mix is Los Angeles, and USOC leadership has been working hard for years to build a stronger relationship with the IOC, in part to be in better position to eventually bring the Summer Games back to the United States for the first time since 1996.
It helps explain why the USOC has been vocal about some parts of the anti-doping mess of the past year — saying the system is broken — but unwilling to break ranks at the highest level, including the IOC’s decision about Russia.
Chief of sport performance Alan Ashley said he’s spent a lot of time in the athletes’ village and hasn’t heard a word about doping or Russia.
“They’re looking forward to the competition,” Ashley said. “That’s what I hear about.”
But Ashley hasn’t spoken to all the athletes.
“I believed the IOC was going to say, ‘We don’t want this in our organization and we have to make a stand,'” said U.S. race walker John Nunn, who also serves on the U.S. track team’s athletes’ advisory committee. “And to turn around and just go, ‘Hey, why don’t you just go make a decision for each sport, I’m like, Are you for real? You really just copped out on this.'”