By Gene Cherry

EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) - Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova returns to action at the European Athletics Championships on Wednesday but is still waiting to hear from the IOC whether she can participate in the Rio Olympics, her husband told Reuters on Tuesday.

The 800 metres runner, along with husband Vitaly, helped expose massive doping problems in Russia that led to the country's athletics team being banned from international competition.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) last month cleared the former convicted drug cheat's return to competition as a neutral athlete and she will run the 800m Amsterdam.

But athletics' governing body said individual competitions must invite her, leaving it up to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to determine whether the former elite runner can participate in the Aug 5-21 Rio Games.

"Our next step will be to contact the IOC to see if they will accept Yulia's participation in the Rio Olympics," Vitaly Stepanov told Reuters via telephone.

LETTER FROM IOC

Stepanov said IOC president Thomas Bach had responded to a letter he and his wife had sent to the IOC, IAAF and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) asking that Yulia be allowed to compete as a neutral athlete.

According to her husband, Bach's letter said "there is a procedure to follow with regard to participation in the Olympic Games. This procedure, in the interest of protecting the clean athletes, is underway and has to be respected by all parties involved. Please rest assured that your arguments will be taken into due consideration."

The IOC previously has said it was studying the case.

Both the IAAF and WADA support her return because of the exceptional information she and her husband have provided.

But the decision has upset Russian officials, especially since their athletes are banned.

Sixty-eight Russian athletes have filed a joint action with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) seeking to overturn the IAAF ban and the court has said it will rule on July 21.

"Everyone in Russia is saying it makes no sense that Yulia is eligible to compete," Stepanov said.

"But we never accused athletes, it was system we accused."

He and his wife now live in an undisclosed location in the United States, fearful for their lives.

OLYMPIC STANDARD

His wife , who celebrated her 30th birthday on Sunday, has not competed since September 2015 because of the Russia ban.

She achieved the Olympic standard by running 2:01.31 last June and has been regularly drug tested.

"She never stopped training," her husband said. "But she had not done the necessary training to run two minutes because she did not know she would be allowed to compete.

"She also has had some minor injuries lately so she is not in great shape yet.

"I don't know what she will do but it is not about winning now, it's just about trying to compete, respecting the competition and not putting the result ahead of the rules."

"She is just happy to be able to compete again and whatever she can run, she will run."

Stepanova accepted an invitation by European Athletics to compete in their continental championships after being cleared by the IAAF.

"Usually a major championships would not be your first competition in a year, but she is very happy to be able to compete again," said her husband.

Whether she is cleared by the IOC for Rio will determine if and where she races again, Vitaly Stepanov said.

Yulia is quietly waiting in her hotel room in Amsterdam for her first race, her husband said.

She had been due to hold a news conference on Monday but it was cancelled.

"She's not looking for publicity," he said. "For four years I was writing to WADA (about doping in Russia) and I could not imagine this would become public with what we know.

"But I guess if this is the only way to get this whole thing clean in Russian sport by putting public pressure we will help as much as we can.

"But that was never our intention (to go public). The intention was to try to make sport fairer and cleaner."

(Editing by Mitch Phillips)