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IOC and Wada welcome CAS rejection of Russian Olympic appeals

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has today (Friday) dismissed the appeals of 45 Russian athletes to compete at the 2018 winter Olympic Games, stating the ruling made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) represented an eligibility decision rather than a sanction.

The CAS made its ruling in Pyeongchang just hours before the opening ceremony for South Korea’s Games. The 45 athletes include six-time gold medallist Viktor Ahn, the short track speedskater who formerly represented South Korea, cross-country skiing gold medallist Alexander Legkov and skeleton gold medallist Alexander Tretiakov, as well as other medal contenders in biathlon, luge and bobsled.

In December, the IOC moved to ban Russia from competing at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang after finding evidence of an “unprecedented systematic manipulation” of doping results surrounding the 2014 Games. The Russian team will compete under the ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’ banner in Pyeongchang, using kit without national branding, and the IOC had given athletes the chance to apply for invitations under this status. The Russian anthem and flag will also not be used during medal ceremonies.

The 45 athletes were joined by two support staff in their appeals to CAS, which said in its ruling: “In its decisions, the CAS arbitrators have considered that the process created by the IOC to establish an invitation list of Russian athletes to compete as Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) could not be described as a sanction but rather as an eligibility decision.”

It added: “At the hearing, the Applicants acknowledged that the IOC had the ability to institute such process. The CAS Panel found that the Applicants did not demonstrate that the manner in which the two special commissions (the Invitation Review Panel (IRP) and the Olympic Athlete from Russia Implementation Group (OAR IG) independently evaluated the Applicants was carried out in a discriminatory, arbitrary or unfair manner. The Panel also concluded that there was no evidence the IRP or the OAR IG improperly exercised their discretion.”

Today’s ruling deals a heavy blow to Russia’s medal chances at the Games and has been welcomed by both the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada). “We welcome this decision which supports the fight against doping and brings clarity for all athletes,” an IOC spokesperson told the Reuters news agency.

Wada said that it particularly welcomed the remark made by the CAS Panel that it was “faced with evaluating an unprecedented response to an extraordinary situation, that is, a state-sponsored doping scheme.”

Wada president Craig Reedie told the Associated Press news agency: “I am delighted at the decision and the way they expressed it. They have quite clearly understood that there was systemic manipulation of the anti-doping process. It means the Games can proceed. Athletes can get their heads down and go. This particular issue is now behind us.”

A further six Russian athletes, along with seven support officials, saw their appeals rejected yesterday (Thursday) with CAS stating it “lacked jurisdiction” in the matter. The six athletes included world champion speedskaters Denis Yuskov and Pavel Kulizhnikov, along with athletes from biathlon and ski jumping. The six were refused invitations to compete by the IOC, which had said it would not permit athletes who had previously served doping bans.

Reacting to today’s ruling, Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov said it was unfair, adding that Russia is considering its legal options. “The statement of reasons has not been published yet that but it is already clear that CAS only accepted the IOC’s arguments, thus acknowledging that the IOC is totally free to make decisions whether to invite athletes to the Olympic Games or not,” Kolobkov said, according to state news agency Tass.

“Athletes and we all believe this decision to be unfair because athletes will not be allowed to compete at the Pyeongchang Games for no particular reason. They are currently holding consultations with their lawyers in order to decide what legal actions to take next.”