Russia lost its appeal against the decision to ban its athletics team from the Rio Olympics next month. The Russian Olympic Committee and 68 individual athletes lodged an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport when athletics’ world governing body the IAAF upheld a global competition ban against the Russian athletics federation that has been in place since November.
Russia called the court decision “a crime against sport”, “biased and politicised”, accusing the court of condemning clean athletes, after “creating a precedent of collective responsibility”.
Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said: “We are speaking here about field and track athletes, who had been preparing hard for the Olympics, who have nothing to do with doping, who have nothing to do with any of the accusations and suspicions, who had regularly been tested by foreign anti-doping agencies,” Peskov continued.
Russia’s double Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva told the TASS news agency that the verdict was “the funeral of track and field” and dismissed it as politically motivated.
The sanctions were imposed after a World Anti-Doping Agency report into widespread doping in Russian track and field. A second Wada-backed investigation has revealed that a similar doping programme extended to almost all Olympic and Paralympic sports in Russia.
Earlier this week, Wada and others asked the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee to ban Russia entirely from the Rio Games but both bodies said they needed more time to consider their options.
In a statement, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said: “The Court of Arbitration for Sport has issued its decisions in the arbitrations between the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), a number of Russian athletes (the claimant athletes) and the International Association of Athletics Federations.
“The CAS has dismissed both the request for arbitration filed by the ROC and 68 claimant athletes, and the appeal filed by 67 of the same athletes against the IAAF decision to consider them as ineligible for the Olympic Games in Rio.”
The CAS decision should provide legal certainty to other sports federations considering their own sanctions against their Russian member association.
Whether it will persuade the IOC to make such actions academic by banning the entire Russian delegation is another matter, as all indications suggest IOC president Thomas Bach remains reluctant to take such a drastic and unprecedented step.
The IOC’s executive board is holding its second emergency meeting to discuss the crisis on Sunday and has promised to resolve the matter by Wednesday, which would be just over a week before Rio’s opening ceremony.
But for the IAAF and its president Seb Coe, the verdict is a vindication of the process it started in November.
The CAS decision specifically addresses the IAAF rule change that banned the Russian federation but allowed individual athletes, who could prove they had spotless anti-doping records verified by credible agencies, to be given special eligibility to compete internationally.
In practice, that ruled out almost the entire team, as the vast majority of Russian athletes train at home, where the IAAF and Wada have said the anti-doping system still cannot be trusted.
This has led to only two US-based Russian athletes — Darya Klishina and Yuliya Stepanova — coming through the IAAF vetting process, and the likes of double Olympic pole vault champion Isinbayeva furiously proclaiming an abuse of her human rights.
The CAS panel said it “was concerned about the immediate application with retroactive effect of such rule... since (the) rule involves criteria based on long-term prior activity, it left no possibility in practice, and as applied, for the claimant athletes to be able to try to comply with them”.
This may mean the matter is not entirely over, then, and the Russian authorities have already suggested that they will continue legal action.
But the IAAF welcomed the decision, saying it “upholds the rights of the IAAF to use its rules for the protection of the sport, to protect clean athletes and support the credibility and integrity of competition”.
Coe added: “While we are thankful that our rules and our power to uphold our rules and the anti-doping code have been supported, this is not a day for triumphant statements.
“I didn’t come into this sport to stop athletes from competing. It is our federation’s instinctive desire to include, not exclude.
“Beyond Rio, the IAAF will continue to work with Russia to establish a clean, safe environment for its athletes so that its federation and team can return to international recognition and competition.”