LONDON (Reuters) - Russian gymnasts must be allowed to compete in the Olympic Games and not tarred with the same brush as the country's banned track and field athletes, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) said on Monday.
Several national anti-doping agencies have called for a blanket ban on Russians attending the Rio Games ahead of the publication later on Monday of a report into allegations of state-backed doping at the Sochi winter Olympics.
"FIG is concerned about the increasing number of officials asking for a blanket ban of Russian athletes to participate at the forthcoming Olympic Games in Rio," the sport's governing body said in a statement.
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"Whilst FIG fully supports the IOC's policy of "Zero Tolerance in Doping", it strongly feels that not all Russian athletes of all sports should be banned and found guilty for actions in other sports and federations."
In a leaked letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) the officials from the U.S. and Canadian anti-doping agencies call for a complete ban on Russians if the Sochi report compiled by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren is damning.
Russia's track and field athletes are already banned from competing at next month's Olympics by the world governing International Association of Athletics' Federations (IAAF) over widespread doping in the sport.
However, FIG said Russian gymnasts have been subject to controls equal to those of our other leading gymnastics federations and that they should be in Rio.
"The rights of every individual athlete must be respected," FIG resident Bruno Grandi said. "Participation at the Olympic Games is the highest goal of athletes who often sacrifice their entire youth to this aim.
"The right to participate at the Games cannot be stolen from an athlete, who has duly qualified and has not be found guilty of doping. Blanket bans have never been and will never be just."
The leaking of the letter, which was also circulated to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) athlete committee and has the support of national bodies in Germany, Japan and New Zealand, has been criticized by other sport's world governing bodies.
Swimming's world body FINA said: "FINA is also concerned that there has been a drive behind the scenes...to get a global coalition .... to support the call for the total ban on Russia.
"All of this is based on the findings of the McLaren Report which is meant to have been independent and confidential."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)