Relieved IOC welcomes CAS decision to dismiss 47 Russian appeals
By Callum Murray in PyeongChang
The International Olympic Committee this morning welcomed a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to dismiss an appeal by 47 Russian athletes and coaches to be allowed to take part in the winter Olympic Games beginning here in PyeongChang today, saying that the decision "supports the fight against doping and brings clarity for all athletes."
The ruling, which came ahead of the opening ceremony, contrasted with CAS’s shock decision earlier this week to uphold the appeals by 15 Russian athletes against lifetime bans for their part in an alleged doping scandal at the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics.
However, today’s ruling was different, in that it concerned a direct appeal by the athletes and coaches to be allowed to take part in the games. CAS said: “The Applicants challenged the IOC decision refusing to invite them to participate in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and requested that CAS overturn the IOC decision.
“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. Although the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) was suspended, the IOC nevertheless chose to offer individual athletes the opportunity to participate in the Winter Games under prescribed conditions - a process that was designed to balance the IOC’s interest in the global fight against doping and the interests of individual athletes from Russia.”
Perhaps crucially, CAS added: “At the hearing, the Applicants acknowledged that the IOC had the ability to institute such process.”
In a statement, CAS continued: “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.”
The decision appears to put an end to Russian hopes that a last-minute reprieve will be offerd to athletes specifically excluded by the IOC from the games.
Those who were among the 47 whose appeals failed today included some star names such as Victor Ahn, the multiple Olympic speed skating champion, and Sochi 2014 gold medallists Alexander Legkov (cross-country skiing) and Aleksandr Tretiakov (skeleton).
The CAS ruling was welcomed by the IOC, which told Reuters: "We welcome this decision which supports the fight against doping and brings clarity for all athletes."
In a statement, Craig Reedie, the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said: "These decisions come as welcome news for WADA; as they will, for athletes and all others worldwide that care for clean sport and the integrity of the Games.
"The timing of these decisions just before the opening ceremony in PyeongChang is good as it will reassure athletes and others that only Russian athletes which have met strict anti-doping criteria will be participating in the Games."
However, Pavel Kolobkov, Russia’s sports minister, hit out at CAS over the ruling, telling the state news agency TASS that the decision was “unfair”.
He said: "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.
"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.
Kolobkov said that Russia will organise special competitions for around 920 athletes that will not be going to the games.
He explained: "Our task now is to provide maximal support to the Russian athletes. Competitions on sports included in the Olympics program will be held soon, in February, March and April, namely: bobsleigh, cross-country skiing, biathlon, short track and speed skating. Competitions will be held in several Russian cities: Sochi, Kolomna, Syktyvkar, Khanty-Mansiysk and St. Petersburg.“It is important for us to provide a possibility for the athletes to show the results of four-year training."
Yesterday, CAS rejected appeals from six other Russian athletes that had not been invited to compete at the games, saying it “lacked jurisdiction to deal with” the application filed by the six athletes, and another filed by seven Russian support staff.
The court has been handling the cases of multiple Russian athletes, coaches and officials appealing against their exclusion by the IOC from the games in the wake of the high-profile doping scandal centring on the 2014 games in Sochi.
The six athletes rejected yesterday included world champion speed skaters Denis Yuskov and Pavel Kulizhnikov, plus others from biathlon and ski jumping.
The case was separate from today’s case, which CAS had been hearing over the last three days.
In December, the IOC ruled that selected ‘clean’ Russian athletes can take part in the PyeongChang winter Olympics, but only under the name ‘Olympic Athlete from Russia’, wearing uniforms bearing this name, and competing under the Olympic flag, with the Olympic anthem to be played at any ceremony.
Legal opinion Jessica van der Meer, a sport law barrister at civil and commercial chambers 2 Temple Gardens, offered this analysis of the decision: “The latest Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) decision reflects a willingness to support the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) objective of clean sport, potentially to the detriment of ‘clean’ individual Russian athletes.
“The CAS decision, which had to determine whether there was any basis for the IOC’s refusal to invite Russian athletes, is in some ways, a judicial review of the IOC’s method for determining which athletes are able to take part in the competition.
“The Court found that the invitation process, guidelines and criteria set up by the IOC to determine which athletes were ‘clean’ and would therefore be invited, were not inherently discriminatory or unfair.
“For the CAS to acknowledge that its decision had the potential to sanction individual Russian athletes on the sole basis of their citizenship but to stress that it had to balance this risk against the IOC’s objective of achieving ‘clean’ Olympics reflects the emphasis put on the fight against doping by the Court.
“The Russian Olympic Committee has yet to rebut the evidence of systematic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia.”Sportcal