The first charges against Russian athletes suspected of having been part of a doping ring at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi may soon be issued by the International Olympic Committee, the head of a committee investigation has said.
Denis Oswald, the head of one of two Olympic commissions looking into allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia, said on September 15 that evidence gathered so far will be combined shortly with the results of tests conducted to determine whether urine- and blood-sample bottles had been tampered with at the Sochi Games.
"We feel we have found a number of elements to charge a certain number of athletes" as soon as the results from testing on some 50 drug samples are completed, Oswald said at a meeting of the Olympic Committee in Lima, Peru.
Oswald did not say how many athletes could be involved, but said the first hearings would start next month. He said his commission had authority only to ban athletes from the Olympics and cannot impose other sanctions.
"We can only disqualify athletes. We have been working closely with winter sports federations and they will be ready as soon as we have made our decision to go on with their own procedure," he said.
Oswald's investigation was triggered by a 2015 World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report that found widespread doping and cover-ups in Russian sports and revealed a scheme for covering up positive drug samples from Russian athletes in Sochi by replacing them with clean samples.
The report said the Russian doping activity involved 1,000 athletes in 30 different sports, both winter and summer.
The participation of individual Russian athletes at next February's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, will depend on the results of Oswald's report, which he said would be completed before the end of the year.
Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach urged Oswald to act speedily. "We can't have the Winter Games overshadowed by an ongoing procedure with regard to Russia," he said.
Some members of the Olympic Committee were concerned about how long the investigations are taking.
"I understand it takes a lot of time, but we cannot have this discussion just before the Pyeongchang Games. It must be clear months before," said Camiel Eurlings, a committee member from the Netherlands.
Russian Olympic Committee chief Aleksandr Zhukov said he was confident most Russian athletes would be cleared and allowed to compete in Pyeongchang.
More than 270 Russian athletes were allowed to compete at last year's Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro despite a ban on Russia's athletics team at the event.
Oswald said his commission will first deal with six Russian skiers who were banned following the WADA report, and after that it will deal with Russians who are due to take part in Pyeongchang qualifiers.
WADA chief Craig Reedie said Russia's anti-doping agency, RUSADA, which was suspended for noncompliance in 2015 following the doping scandals, had been working toward reinstatement and that could happen as soon as November.
"We are currently working through an agreed road map," Reedie said. "There has been much progress and it is really important that we try to get RUSADA compliant and deliver a proper, robust anti-doping test program."
Reedie criticized a group of 17 national anti-doping organizations who this week called for Russia to be excluded from Pyeongchang.
"The comments made...omit entirely all the work that's been done to develop proper anti-doping systems in Russia," Reedie said. "It looks backward instead of looking forward. I want to make it quite clear that most of what they say in their press release is not policy, and is not helpful."
With reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters