LOS ANGELES (AFP) - The International Olympic Committee on Sunday decided against hitting Russia with a blanket ban from the Rio Games over state-run doping, sparking an immediate backlash from groups that had demanded bold action against cheating.
IOC president Thomas Bach said the body shied away from a historic outright ban in order to protect the rights of clean Russian competitors hoping to take part at the Games which start in two weeks.
Individual sports federations will have primary responsibility for determining every Russian athlete's eligibility for Rio, the IOC executive said.
But Bach stressed that strict checks put in place for Russians proved the IOC had gotten tough with a country accused of running a vast doping programme.
United States anti-doping chief Travis Tygart, one of many who urged a total ban against Russia, blasted the IOC for creating "a confusing mess." "In response to the most important moment for clean athletes and the integrity of the Olympic Games, the IOC has refused to take decisive leadership," the USADA boss said in a statement.
Britain's Chris Hoy, a six-time Olympic gold medallist, said the IOC had shirked its responsibilities.
"What sort of message does this send out? Surely IOC's job is to make crucial decisions rather than passing the buck," tweeted Hoy.
British long jump Olympic champion Greg Rutherford told The Guardian: "I had a terrible feeling that arms would be twisted." The IOC faced global pressure to act after a World Anti-Doping Agency report last week detailed a cheating programme directed by the Russian sports ministry with help from the FSB state intelligence agency.
The cheating affected 30 sports, including at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and other major events, WADA said, in revelations that widened the worst drug scandal in Olympic history.
Russia's entire track and field squad has already been barred from Rio following a similar WADA report on "state-supported" doping.
Fourteen national anti-doping agencies - including the US, Germany and Japan - as well as several national Olympic committees had demanded Russia's exclusion from Rio.
Others, especially top political leaders in Moscow, insisted collective punishment would be unjust.
Bach said the IOC reached a decision that considered the severity of the misconduct while also sending "a message of encouragement to clean Russian athletes." "This may not please everybody, but this result is one which is respecting the rules of justice and all the clean athletes all over the world," Bach told reporters after the IOC executive conference.
Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko - a key player in the WADA report who has been banned from Rio - hailed the IOC's "objective" decision.
Separately, an IOC ethics commission ruled that 800m runner Yuliya Stepanova, who turned whistleblower on doping in Russian athletics, could not go to Rio even as a neutral.
The IOC executive implemented what Bach termed a rigorous set of criteria for each Russian Olympic hopeful.
First, athletes must be individually cleared by their respective sports federation and there should be no presumption of innocence.
An expert from the Court of Arbitration for Sport must also approve each individual decision.
Additionally, any athlete who has previously tested positive for doping is ineligible, even if they have already served their suspension.
Finally, no athletes named in the WADA report led by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren is eligible.
But the complex screening process must be carried out for the 387 athletes nominated for Rio by the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) before the Games start on August 5.
"This is a very ambitious timeline, but we had no choice," Bach said.
Russians "have to clear the highest hurdles in order to have chance to compete in the Olympic games," he added.
Immediately following the IOC announcement, the International Tennis Federation said eight players already met the eligibility requirements.
Mutko told the R-Sport news agency he was "absolutely sure that the majority of the Russian team will meet the criteria." UK Sports Minister Tracey Crouch said the IOC had been too soft on Russia.
She told the BBC: "The scale of the evidence in the McLaren report arguably pointed to the need for stronger sanctions rather than leaving it to the international federations at this late stage." The IOC also delivered a crushing blow to Stepanova's hopes of competing in Rio.
She had refused to run for Russia and hoped for a special Olympic charter exemption to compete as a neutral after she gave evidence to WADA.
The IOC ethics commission said that while Stepanova "made a contribution to the protection and promotion of clean athletes", Olympic rules did not permit the entry of neutrals.
Also, despite her whistleblower credentials, she is an admitted cheater and her conduct does "not satisfy the ethical requirements for an athlete to enter the Olympic Games." Tygart called the IOC's decision on Stepanova "incomprehensible." "It will undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward," the US anti-doping chief said.