Another golfer might be canceling her flight to Rio, but not because of scheduling conflicts or the Zika virus.
Maria Verchenova, a Ladies European Tour pro from Moscow, is the only Russian golfer who qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, but less than two weeks before the start of the Games, the International Olympic Committee determined that “all Russian athletes seeking entry to the Olympic Games Rio 2016 are considered to be affected by a system subverting and manipulating the antidoping system.”
Although the World Anti-Doping Agency recommended an unprecedented blanket ban on Russian athletes for what its offcials called “the single biggest doping scandal of all time,” the IOC decided to leave it up to each individual international sports federation to vet each Russian athlete under its jurisdiction, so Verchenova’s fate now rests with the International Golf Federation.
IGF vice president Ty Votaw offered no specific information regarding Verchenova’s eligibility but issued the following statement to GOLF.com.
“The IGF has reviewed the IOC EB decision with regards to the entry of Russian athletes at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. We are swiftly carrying out the requirements and responsibilities that this decision has imposed upon the IGF to ensure that the rights of all our athletes to a clean sport and a clean Olympic Games are protected.”
Verchenova’s path to reinstatement will be a tough one. In outlining its criteria, the IOC stressed that in these cases the “‘presumption of innocence’ cannot be applied to [Russian athletes],” so merely the absence of any positive tests will not be sufficient for the IGF to clear Verchenova for competition.
After a whistle-blower claimed to have covered up a state-sanctioned doping program with the help of the Russian government, WADA commissioned Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren to investigate the allegations. His report, released on July 18, revealed that the cheating scandal ran much deeper than previously believed.
“The surprise result of the Sochi investigation was the revelation of the extent of State oversight and directed control of the Moscow laboratory in processing, and covering up urine samples of Russian athletes from virtually all sports before and after the Sochi Games,” Mr. McLaren wrote in the report.
WADA issued a statement that it was “disappointed” in the IOC’s decision not to impose a blanket ban but pledged to support the international sports federations as they evaluate athletes’ eligibility on a case-by-case basis.
Verchenova, 30, is the No. 338-ranked player in the world and the first Russian golfer to become a full-time member of the Ladies European Tour, where she has competed since 2012.
In June, she told the Ladies European Tour that she hopes her participation in the Rio Games will spur more young Russians to take up golf.
“In Russia, the Olympics has always been built up and people have grown up with Olympic sports and it’s so important for them,” she said. “Everybody, every person I know, will come and watch it and support their own players. As a result of golf’s reentry in to the Games, it’s my hope that more juniors will pick up the game and realize that it is not a sport that is only played by rich people. I came from a normal family, not a rich family, and I managed to get here on the Ladies European Tour and I’ve played here for a long time. My background should be a spur to others and I hope that parents will look at me and say that I managed to play in the Olympic Games for the first time and tell their own kids that it’s possible.”