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Russian Paralympic Team Faces Olympics Ban Amid Doping Allegations

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The International Paralympic Committee has announced that all athletes on the Russian Paralympic team will be banned from the 2016 games. Rebecca R. Ruiz is a reporter with The New York Times. She's in Rio covering the Olympics, and she joins us now. Hey, Rebecca.

REBECCA R. RUIZ: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what did the Paralympic Committee say?

RUIZ: The Paralympics are set to start on September 7, and today in Rio, the president of the committee said that Russia's, quote, unquote, "thirst for medals" was abhorrent. And it prompted the committee to vote to ban the entire Russian Paralympic team from the games.

CHANG: But on what basis? What were the violations that they found?

RUIZ: For government-sponsored doping, for revelations of a doping program in Russia that was state-sponsored that dated back to at least 2012 and corrupted the results of, most certainly and most dramatically, the Sochi Olympics and Paralympics, the last games that Russia hosted.

CHANG: And what kind of drugs are allegedly being abused by the Paralympic athletes? I mean, are we talking about the same class of drugs that were at issue with the Olympic athletes?

RUIZ: Exactly. Stretching across sports and across Olympics and Paralympics, we're talking about anabolic steroids, three types that were administered to Russia's top athletes, their medal contenders, in order to not only make them stronger but to bounce back in their training, according to the director of Russia's anti-doping lab, who prepared these special concoctions for the athletes. He told us he would mix these drugs with liquor. He would give them to sports officials who would in turn give them to the athletes. And they would help athletes recover and train regularly and vigorously.

CHANG: But do some Paralympic athletes - because of their disabilities - have to take some drugs like steroids to manage their conditions anyway?

RUIZ: It's a good question. There are certainly therapeutic use exemptions, meaning athletes are able to, for special reasons, get permission to take drugs. But anabolic steroids are unquestionably banned in competition, and the Paralympics has a list of banned substances and, these drugs were on that list.

CHANG: And why was the entire Russian Paralympic team banned when the Russian Olympic team was spared?

RUIZ: There was a lot of pressure on the Olympic committee to act as the Paralympic committee now did. The president of the Olympic committee said we didn't want to choose the nuclear option. We see the Olympic movement as being about inclusion, not exclusion. This would get too political. We don't want to see the, quote, unquote, "death and devastation" that would have been produced by banning such a huge country, such a big sports power. There's a lot of money at play. Russia is an important player on the international sports stage. It hosts a lot of competitions. It gives a lot of money to sport federations. So it's a complicated question. And now we see that the International Paralympic Committee has taken a more aggressive stand than what some would say the International Olympic Committee chose to do in allowing a patchwork of Russian athletes to compete here in Rio.

CHANG: Rebecca R. Ruiz in Rio is a reporter with The New York Times. Thank you so much for being with us.

RUIZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.