Yulia Stepanova, the key whistleblower in the Russian doping scandal, said on Thursday she is not a traitor to her country.
"I don't consider myself a traitor as they portray me in Russia. I think the traitors are those who have created the system. Those who give drugs to young athletes and ruining the future of those athletes and force them to become haters of sport. I was trying to tell the truth. I saw a lot of ruined careers of sportsmen," Stepanova told Reuters.
Her disclosure of state-sponsored, however, doping almost led to Russia being completely excluded from the Rio de Janeiro Games.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) invited the middle-distance athlete and her husband to attend next month's Games as guests but denied her a competitive spot in Rio, arguing her doping-tainted past made her ineligible.
Stepanova's husband Vitaly, a former Russian sports official, said the couple would not be appealing the IOC ban with CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport). "We will not appeal to CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) the decision about Yulia. It is not enough time. That was not our intention to go to courts. Our intention was to make sports cleaner and hopefully try to set up some future program for whistleblowers," Vitaly said in the living room of their tiny apartment.
'Would like to apologise for my past'
"I would like to apologise for my past. I doped and I'm not using that as an excuse but to tell about what was going on you had to be on the inside of what was happening.I regret that I believed in that system and that I trusted those people who said that was the only way to join the national team," Stepanova told Reuters.
Stepanova, who provided evidence of doping in a series of German broadcaster ARD documentaries, has fled Russia and is living in hiding at an undisclosed location in North America, fearing for her safety.
Sunday's decision by the IOC ruling out a total ban on Russia was a clear disappointment for many athletes campaigning for clean sport.
"We don't know for sure but to us, it seems that the IOC doesn't have a zero-tolerance policy to doping and in fact, with the decision about Russia it seems that it sends the opposite signal. That if you run a systematic state-sponsored doping program you will not be sanctioned for it and in this regard there will be Russian athletes who have doping in preparation and athletes from other countries as well," Vitaly said.
Stepanova was cleared to compete in Rio as a neutral athlete by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and received praise for revealing one of the biggest doping scandals in decades.
However, the IOC ruled on Sunday that any Russian athlete with a doping past, including Stepanova, would not be allowed to compete in Rio.
"The executive board have appreciated that she came forward and she and her husband, who also played a very important role, are being invited to the Olympic Games as a guest of the IOC," IOC President Thomas Bach said.
Unfortunately, she could not compete due to her doping background, Bach added. An online petition requesting the IOC reconsider the ban has collected thousands of signatures. "I think it's amazing that so many people believe in us and support us. It's true. It's happened," Yulia said Vitaly Stapanov said the couple were determined to keep fighting for clean sport despite their recent setback.
"The reason we started whistleblowing is that we saw there is a problem in our home country and it's unfortunate there are corrupt sport officials setting up these kinds of systems in our home country again but I don't think that should be used as an excuse for not fighting corruption and doping and that was the reason we decided to fight it or at least try to fight it."