- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) - The Russian sports minister says “up to 67 athletes” have applied to track and field’s world governing body to be exempted from the ban on the Russian team at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The IAAF last week upheld its overall ban on the Russian team - imposed in November over widespread doping - but allowed an exemption for athletes who can show they have been subject to reliable drug-testing outside their home country.

Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said on Russia’s Match TV on Saturday that the 67 athletes would submit “individual applications” to the IAAF but were also prepared to file lawsuits at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

He did not name any of the athletes who wanted to apply.

The IAAF is unlikely to approve most of the 67 athletes, since it has previously indicated the exemption is aimed at a small minority of athletes based abroad. Those who appear to fit the IAAF criteria include 800-meter runner Yulia Stepanova, who fled Russia after testifying on doping matters citing fears for her safety, and the U.S.-based long jumper Darya Klishina.

There is also a dispute between the IAAF and the International Olympic Committee over which flag they could compete under. The IAAF favors a “neutral” designation; the IOC says the Russian flag would be used.

Mutko could resign if Russia’s entire track and field team is banned from the games.

“For me it would be a real failure if the whole team is banned,” he said Saturday.

Mutko added that he was “prepared to take full responsibility,” though “it’s not me who encourages athletes to dope.”

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