Twenty-eight Russian athletes banned from the Olympics for life for doping have had their suspensions overturned and results reinstated by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, days before the start of the Winter Olympics.
A total of 39 athletes had been suspended by the International Olympic Committee for failing drugs tests at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. All were stripped of their medals and handed lifetime bans.
However, the court has now ruled that in 28 cases evidence was “insufficient” to prove doping.
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Matthieu Reeb, secretary-general of the court, said: “This does not mean that these 28 athletes are declared innocent, but in their case, due to insufficient evidence, the appeals are upheld, the sanctions annulled and their individual results achieved in Sochi are reinstated.”
Reeb went on to say that the decision had no bearing on “whether there was an organised scheme allowing the manipulation of doping control samples in the Sochi laboratory”, only on the culpability of individual athletes.
Both the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the International Olympic Committee have said the 28 athletes will be barred from this year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea which begin in a week, but Sky News says legal action could force the IOC to let some of them compete.
More important than the fate of 28 athletes is the damage the affair has done to the sport as a whole. The ruling “will be seen as yet another blow for anti-doping, undermining the entire case built against Russia for state-sponsored doping, and fuelling those who portray the scandal as a Western conspiracy”, says BBC sports editor Dan Roan.
The IOC attacked the court’s decision, saying it “may have a serious impact on the future fight against doping” and pledged to consider its own appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, “yet it is another blow to the credibility of the Olympic committee’s management of the doping affair”, says The New York Times.
A 17-month investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency found “beyond reasonable doubt” that the Russian Ministry of Sport and its Olympic preparation team had allowed state-funded doping at Sochi.
The IOC has already been criticised, both for banning Russia and then allowing 169 athletes to compete as neutrals with the word ‘Russia’ emblazoned on their kit. Now “many will wonder why they issued these lifetime bans in the first place when legal precedent shows that such sanctions are always doomed to fail once appealed”, says Roan.
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