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Sports Court Lifts Lifetime Olympic Bans For 39 Russians


The athletes who appealed denied being part of a state-backed doping program that investigators said was in place during the Sochi Olympics.

The world's top sports court has overturned lifetime Olympic bans for 39 Russian athletes in a blow to the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) policy following the Russian sports-doping scandal.

Russian officials celebrated the February 1 ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) as a victory, while a lawyer for Russian doping whistle-blower Grigory Rodchenkov said it "emboldens cheaters."

CAS said it found "insufficient" evidence that 28 of the athletes had broken anti-doping rules at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The 28 who had their bans lifted in full can now seek late entry into the Winter Olympics that begin on February 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"With respect to these 28 athletes, the appeals are upheld, the sanctions annulled, and their individual results achieved in Sochi 2014 are reinstated," a CAS statement said.

Those 28 athletes can now seek late entry into the February 9-25 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea -- but the IOC said they will not necessarily be cleared to compete.

"The result of the CAS decision does not mean that athletes from the group of 28 will be invited to the Games. Not being sanctioned does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation," the IOC said.

CAS said 11 other Russian athletes were ruled to have been guilty of doping but had lifetime bans cut to a ban from this month's Olympics alone.

Russian officials -- who have repeatedly denied state involvement in doping, despite the evidence -- were quick to express satisfaction over the decision to clear the 28 athletes.

The ruling "cannot fail to please us," President Vladimir Putin said, 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 "does not mean that these 28 athletes are declared innocent."

The IOC, which had imposed the lifetime bans, said it had taken note of the ruling "with satisfaction on the one hand and disappointment on the other," adding the decision "may have a serious impact on the future fight against doping."

The confirmation of 11 cases "clearly demonstrates once more the existence of the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014," it added.

The IOC said it regretted that CAS "did not take this proven existence of the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system into consideration for the other 28 cases."

It said the ruling did not mean that the 28 athletes will be invited to Pyeongchang.

A lawyer for Rodchenkov, the former Russian anti-doping chief whose revelations about an elaborate system to skirt the rules at Sochi helped lead to the lifetime bans, said the CAS ruling "emboldens cheaters."

The ruling provided "a very small measure of punishment for some athletes but a complete 'get-out-of-jail-free card' for most," lawyer Jim Walden said.

He said that Rodchenkov "testified fully and credibly" at CAS and his evidence was verified by forensic evidence and other whistle-blowers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said he was "very glad" about the verdict, adding that Moscow will continue taking legal measures to defend the athletes banned from the Olympics by the IOC.

A jubilant Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov said that "the guys and all of us are happy that justice has finally triumphed," Interfax news agency reported.

"The CAS decisions today prove that many of those who have been accused are in fact clean athletes," he added.

However, CAS Secretary-General Matthieu Reeb insisted that the ruling "does not mean that these 28 athletes are declared innocent."

Those reinstated at the Sochi Olympics include skeleton gold-medalist Aleksander Tretyakov and cross-country-skiing gold-medalist Aleksander Legkov.

The IOC had imposed lifetime bans on 43 Russians in all for doping.

Three Russian biathletes who have appealed against the IOC ban will have their cases heard later.

Maksim Belugin, a member of bobsleigh teams that finished in fourth place at Sochi, is the only banned athlete not to have lodged an appeal.

The athletes who appealed denied being part of a state-backed doping program that investigators said was in place during the Sochi Olympics. All of them were retroactively disqualified from the Sochi games over the doping allegations.

CAS insisted on February 1 that the mandate of the two panels hearing the cases was "not to determine generally whether there was an organized scheme allowing the manipulation of doping control samples in the Sochi laboratory but was strictly limited to dealing with 39 individual cases and to assess the evidence applicable to each athlete on an individual basis."

The IOC in December also banned Russia from the Olympics in Pyeongchang, citing its "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of the Olympic anti-doping system.

However, the IOC has invited 169 Russians to compete under a neutral flag using the name "Olympic Athletes from Russia," provided they meet strict guidelines on doping.

On January 31, Putin said the IOC's decision to ban Russia from the Olympics amounted to an "outside attack" on Russian sports.

He also urged Russian athletes to ignore doping scandals when they compete in Pyeongchang.

Russian athletes won't be allowed to display the flag in Pyeongchang, or accept Russian flags offered by fans. If they win, the Olympic anthem will be played.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and Interfax
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