LONDON (AP) — In a shift in position, the IOC opened the door on Thursday to the possibility of Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova competing as a neutral athlete at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The IOC said it has asked its ethics commission for "advice" on the issue and will then decide whether Stepanova's participation as an independent athlete "merits an exception to the rules of the Olympic Charter."

Until now, the International Olympic Committee had said Stepanova would be represented by the Russian flag if deemed eligible to compete in the games by track and field's world governing body.

Stepanova, an 800-meter runner who served a two-year doping ban, helped expose the widespread cheating in Russia that led the IAAF to ban the country's track and field athletes from global competition, including the Olympics.

Last month, the IAAF granted Stepanova "exceptional eligibility" to compete as a neutral athlete, but not under the Russian flag. It praised her for "having made a truly exceptional contribution" to the anti-doping fight.

IOC President Thomas Bach said last month that the IAAF had no say on the terms of Stepanova's participation in the Olympics. Under IOC rules, Stepanova would have to be entered by the Russian Olympic Committee and compete under the national flag, Bach said.

The IAAF has since acknowledged that her participation in Rio must be approved by the IOC, which says the issue is subject to the Olympic Charter, the rule book for the games.

The IOC said Thursday it received a letter dated July 5 from Stepanova requesting the right to compete as a neutral athlete at the games.

Stepanova, who has been living and training at an undisclosed location in the United States, competed as a neutral athlete Wednesday at the European Championships in Amsterdam. However, she tore a ligament in her right foot and finished last in her 800-meter heat. It's unclear whether the injury could rule her out of the Olympics.

The IOC said Stepanova's Olympic participation "involves important ethical aspects," and that its ruling executive board decided to ask the ethics panel for "its advice in this respect."

The IOC said the ethics commission could ask Stepanova to attend a hearing on the case.

"As soon as the advice of the IOC ethics commission is available, the IOC (executive board) will then take all of the circumstances of the case into consideration and decide whether it merits an exception to the rules of the Olympic Charter," the statement said.

Stepanova's case is separate from those of other Russian athletes.

Russia has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport on behalf of 68 athletes, challenging the IAAF's blanket ban and contending that athletes without any doping violations should be allowed to compete at the games. CAS said it will issue a ruling by July 21.

Russia was suspended by the IAAF in November after a World Anti-Doping Agency report detailed widespread doping allegedly supported by the Russian state.