IAAF chief Sebastian Coe says Russian doping whistleblower Yulia Stepanova has set an example for other athletes to follow and come forward with testimony.
“It’s a golden opportunity, that is not necessarily going to present itself again, for our sport to grab this moment. This is a historic moment,” Coe said on Thursday in an interview.
“They’re there, at the side of the track, they’re in the training groups. They know the coaches not doing it with integrity. They can help us and that’s really important.”
More than a year ago, Stepanova helped to blow the Russian doping scandal wide open as she and her husband, a former Russian anti-doping official, gathered a trove of evidence on how doping has worked in Russia.
On Wednesday, she competed in the European Championships as a neutral athlete, a breakthrough for athletes who might have information on doping but fear going public because of professional consequences.
Unfortunately, she tore a ligament in her right foot during her 800-meter heat, further complicating her participation in the Rio de Janeiro Games next month.
“First of all, I would like to say that I don’t want this just to be the end of the story,” Coe said.
“And I make this offer to all athletes. If you think you can help us get through this pathology quicker, if you can help us understand the nature of the challenge that we’re dealing with,” grab it with both hands and come forward.
Russian track and field athletes are banned by the IAAF from competing globally, including in the Rio Olympics, because of systematic doping, but Coe said 136 Russians have applied for clearances. Coe refused to address any individual cases.
He said that after meeting with Olympic and track officials over the past weeks, “we all coalesced around the concept of creating a level playing field for competitors, and this is a really important moment, not just for my sport but sport more broadly.”
Even though the IAAF and European Championships organizers have allowed her to compete, Stepanova’s hopes of running in Rio are still in doubt. The IOC is holding to the principle that athletes have to compete under their national flag, and Stepanova said she would not be welcome on the Russia team after her doping admission and accusations.
On Thusday, the IOC changed its position when it opened the door to the possibility of her participation as a neutral athlete. The Olympic movement said it was asking its ethics commission for “advice” on the issue and will then decide whether Stepanova’s participation “merits an exception to the rules of the Olympic Charter.”
Stepanova is the only Russian at the Europeans, running under a special neutral flag exemption.
Coe wants others to take her lead.
“I don’t mind athletes showing passion and being outspoken about this, but they also have a responsibility to help us and position themselves as part of the solution rather than just sitting there and saying ‘Well I didn’t get a medal because.’
“They do need to be in a position where they’re really prepared to stick their heads above the parapet.”