The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has ruled out invitation for 15 Russian athletes and coaches to the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
The 12 athletes and three coaches were among 28 Russians who had their lifetime bans for doping lifted in a ruling on February 1 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the world’s top sports court.
The CAS move overturned the lifetime Olympic bans imposed by the IOC on the 28 Russians, ruling there was “insufficient” evidence that the athletes benefited from a system of state-sponsored doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics that were hosted by Russia.
The suspended Russian Olympic Committee had said it wanted to send 15 of the 28 athletes and coaches to the Olympics in Pyeongchang to take part as so-called “Olympic Athletes from Russia” (OAR) under the Olympic flag.
But in a statement issued on February 5, the IOC says its OAR implementation group turned down the request based on a recommendation by the invitation review panel.
It said the decision was taken after the panel “unanimously recommended that the IOC not extend an invitation to the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018 to the 15 individuals.”
‘Extremely Disappointing’ Decision
IOC President Thomas Bach had opposed the lifting of the athletes’ ban, describing the CAS decision as “extremely disappointing and surprising.”
He says his group’s executive board was “not satisfied at all” with the court’s approach.
In December, the IOC banned Russia from competing at the PyeongChang Olympics following two separate investigations – one concerning alleged doping violations by individual Russian athletes, and the other alleging the existence of a state-sponsored doping system in Russia.
However, the IOC has invited 169 Russians to compete under a neutral flag as OAR competitors, provided they meet strict guidelines on doping.
The ruling “cannot fail to please us,” President Vladimir Putin said on February 1, asserting that “it confirms our position that the overwhelming majority of our athletes are clean athletes.”
However, CAS Secretary-General Matthieu Reeb insisted that the ruling did “not mean that these 28 athletes are declared innocent.”
Among those that Russia hoped would be able to compete at the Olympics were gold-medal-winning skeleton slider Aleksandr Tretyakov and cross-country skiing gold-medalist Aleksandr Legkov.
The competition officially begins on February 7 with preliminary rounds in biathlon, luge, and ski jumping. The opening ceremony is scheduled for February 9.
The allegations were mostly based on claims by Grigory Rodchenkov, former head of the Moscow Anti-Doping laboratory, who fled Russia in 2015 while facing criminal charges.
The WADA-commissioned report by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren accused Russia of mass doping violations during the Sochi Olympics, including tampering with samples.
With the release of McLaren’s report in December 2016, the IOC formed a special disciplinary commission chaired by IOC member Denis Oswald.
He was tasked to review the individual cases of each athlete implicated in the report.
As a result of the probe, a total of 43 Russian athletes were handed lifetime bans from Olympic competitions and stripped of their medals won in Sochi – despite never having tested positive for doping.
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