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CAS overturns Olympic bans imposed on Russian athletes

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has today (Thursday) overturned lifetime bans imposed on 28 Russian athletes by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), along with partially upholding the appeals of a further 11 athletes, citing “insufficient” evidence for the sanctions.

The ruling was announced in Pyeongchang ahead of the start of the 2018 winter Olympic Games on February 9. The CAS delivered its decisions in 39 of the 42 cases filed by Russian athletes against the decisions taken by the Disciplinary Commission of the IOC in relation to the doping scandal surrounding the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics.

Following the investigation performed by Professor Richard McLaren regarding the manipulation of anti-doping procedures during Sochi 2014, the IOC found 43 Russian athletes to have committed anti-doping rule violations during the Games, disqualifying them from the events in which they participated in Sochi and forfeiting all medals won by them.

The athletes were also declared ineligible to participate in any capacity in all subsequent editions of the Olympic Games. At the end of December, all but one of the athletes, bobsledder Maxim Belugin, filed an appeal at the CAS.

Hearings were then held in Geneva from January 22-27, with testimony being taken from key witnesses such as McLaren and the whistleblowing lynchpin in the case Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, former director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory that oversaw drug testing at Sochi 2014.

In a statement, CAS said: “Both CAS panels unanimously found that the evidence put forward by the IOC in relation to this matter did not have the same weight in each individual case. In 28 cases, the evidence collected was found to be insufficient to establish that an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) was committed by the athletes concerned.”

With respect to the 28 athletes, their appeals are upheld, the sanctions annulled and their individual results achieved in Sochi 2014 are reinstated. In 11 cases, the evidence collected was found to be sufficient to establish an individual ADRV. The IOC decisions in these matters are confirmed, with one exception – the athletes are declared ineligible for Pyeongchang 2018 instead of receiving a life ban from all Olympic Games.

Those whose sanctions have been fully overturned include skeleton gold medallist Alexander Tretiakov (pictured) and cross-country ski gold medallist Alexander Legkov. The 11 whose appeals were partially rejected came from men’s bobsled, women’s cross-country skiing and women’s ice hockey. They included two-time bobsled gold medallist Alexander Zubkov.

In response to the CAS verdict, the IOC today expressed its regret at the findings, stating it is considering its options. “The CAS required an even higher threshold on the necessary level of evidence than the Oswald Commission and former CAS decisions,” the IOC said in a statement.

“This may have a serious impact on the future fight against doping. Therefore, the IOC will analyse the reasoned decisions very carefully once they are available and consider consequences, including an appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal.”

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) last week announced a 169-strong team for the 2018 winter Olympic Games, but admitted the list could be reduced amid the possibility of further sanctions due to the country’s doping scandal and athletes potentially choosing to boycott the Games as a gesture of “solidarity”.

The Russian team will compete under the ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’ banner in Pyeongchang, using kit without national branding. The Russian anthem and flag will also not be used during medal ceremonies.

The CAS said remaining procedures, involving three biathletes, have been suspended and will be heard after the 2018 Games.

Reacting to today’s announcement, Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov told state news agency Tass that he expects the IOC to accept the CAS ruling and allow those athletes that had been sanctioned to compete in Pyeongchang.

“I expect that the International Olympic Committee will accept the CAS decision and grant them the unconditional right to take part in the upcoming Olympics,” Kolobkov said. “Over the past year they have gone through hard times. Now they want to move forward and continue doing what they enjoy most of all – to compete in a fair fight.”

The IOC has maintained that the ruling does not mean those athletes whose bans were overturned will automatically be eligible for Pyeongchang 2018. It added: “With regard to the participation of athletes from Russia at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, the decision of the IOC Executive Board (EB) of 5 December 2017 remains in place. It makes it clear that, since the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) is suspended, Russian athletes can participate in PyeongChang only on invitation by the IOC.

“The result of the CAS decision does not mean that athletes from the group of 28 will be invited to the Games. Not being sanctioned does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation. In this context, it is also important to note that, in his press conference, the CAS secretary general insisted that the CAS decision ‘…does not mean that these 28 athletes are declared innocent’.”