Olympic doping bans of 28 Russian athletes overturned

Sport’s highest tribunal on Thursday overturned the Olympic doping bans of 28 Russian athletes and reinstated their results at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi in upholding their appeals.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said in a statement that it had found insufficient evidence during last week’s hearing in Geneva that the 28, banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), were guilty of anti-doping violations in Sochi.

However, it is not clear yet whether any of the 28 will be allowed to compete in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which start on Feb. 9.

“With respect to these 28 athletes, the appeals are upheld, the sanctions annulled and their individual results achieved in Sochi 2014 are reinstated,” said the Lausanne-based tribunal.

Eleven other athletes were confirmed by CAS to have committed doping violations. However, CAS reduced their lifetime Olympic bans to a suspension from this year’s Games.

The IOC had previously banned Russia from Pyeongchang as a result of its “unprecedented systematic manipulation” of the anti-doping system.

Individual Russian athletes are able to compete as neutrals if they can prove their anti-doping credentials, but the IOC said Thursday that the 28 would not necessarily be invited to Pyeongchang.

“Not being sanctioned does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation,” it said.

The confirmation of 11 cases “clearly demonstrates once more the existence of the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014,” it added.

The IOC regretted that CAS “did not take this proven existence of the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system into consideration for the other 28 cases.”

Whistleblower ‘testified fully and credibly’

Cross-country skier Alexander Legkov, who won gold in the 50 kilometres and silver in the 4×10 km race, and Alexander Tretyakov, who won gold in the men’s individual skeleton, were among those to be cleared.

Bobsleigh double gold medallist Alexander Zubkov was one of the 11 whose doping offences were confirmed.

Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said the CAS ruling had restored the “good name” of Russian athletes, Interfax news agency reported.

Jim Walden, lawyer for  Russia’s former anti-doping chief-turned-whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, said the ruling provided “a very small measure of punishment for some athletes but a complete ‘get out of jail free card’ for most.”

Walden added that Rodchenkov “testified fully and credibly” at CAS, and his evidence was verified by forensic evidence and other whistleblowers.

Russia has repeatedly denied any state involvement in the doping, which was exposed by an independent report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

CAS said its mandate was “not to determine generally whether there was an organized scheme allowing the manipulation of doping control samples… but was strictly limited to dealing with 39 individual cases and to assess the evidence applicable to each athlete on an individual basis.”

A total of 43 Russian athletes were banned by the IOC. Three more are still waiting to have their appeals heard and one — bobsledder Maxim Belugin — has not appealed.

An Olympic disciplinary panel, chaired by IOC executive board member Denis Oswald, last year investigated 46 Russian athletes and found 43 guilty of complicity in a Sochi doping program. Two CAS appeal panels heard 39 of those cases last week in Geneva.

More uncertainty for IOC

The CAS judges did not agree with the IOC panels that it was proved many individuals had their steroid-tainted samples swapped for clean urine at the Sochi testing laboratory.

“The CAS required an even higher threshold on the necessary level of evidence than the Oswald commission and former CAS decisions,” the IOC said Thursday.

The 28 overturned bans create more uncertainty for the IOC and winter sports governing bodies, which must assess the impact on Pyeongchang entries.

“I think that the least the IOC could do is allow them to participate,” Philippe Baertsch, a lawyer for the athletes, told The Associated Press.

A team of 169 Olympic Athletes from Russia was already set to compete in South Korea after being invited by the IOC. That process involved two IOC panels assessing hundreds of Russians athletes for suspicions of doping.

The Lausanne-based IOC said it would consider challenging the CAS rulings at Switzerland’s Supreme Court. However, that appeal rests on seeing the detailed reasons for the judgments, which were not published Thursday and seem unlikely to be written soon.

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