By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - Seven more Russian athletes, including world champions Sergey Shubenkov and Mariya Kuchina, have been cleared to return to competition as neutrals by the IAAF's doping review board.
The sport's governing body said on Tuesday that the seven had all met the "exceptional eligibility criteria" after satisfying the board that they have been training in an environment that passes the necessary anti-doping requirements.
Russia's athletics federation (RUSAF) is suspended after a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) independent commission exposed systematic and state-sponsored doping. That means the majority of Russian athletes will miss the World Championships in London in August having also been barred from last year's Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.
Sprint hurdler Shubenkov, high jumper Kuchina and former European indoor champion high jumper Daniil Tsyplakov were the most high-profile of the seven.
Pole vaulters Illia Mudrov and Olga Mullina and race walkers Sergey Shirobokov and Yana Smerdova completed the group of seven.
Their participation as neutral athletes is still subject to some formalities under IAAF rules that are being completed and the acceptance of their entries by individual meeting organisers.
Following Russia's suspension, the IAAF published updated guidelines earlier this year that said to be deemed eligible under a neutral flag, Russian athletes had to "prove that they are not directly implicated in any way (knowingly or unknowingly) by their national federation's failure to put in place adequate systems to protect and promote clean athletes".
They also must not have worked with a coach or doctor implicated in doping, as well as being subject to a minimum number of drug tests conducted outside of the Russian system.
Since the suspension of RUSAF, the IAAF has received about 100 applications from Russian athletes, 38 of which have been endorsed by their national federation.
In total, 12 have now been cleared to compete as neutrals. A number of others remain under review while stored samples continue to be re-analysed.
"I wish to thank the Doping Review Board for their continued dedication and diligence in assessing these applications," IAAF president Sebastian Coe said in a statement.
"There can be no time constraints on a process which has been established to safeguard the rights and aspirations of the world’s clean athletes and is about rebuilding confidence in competition."
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Richard Lough)