LAUSANNE: Forty-seven Russians implicated in doping lost a last-minute court bid to take part in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Friday, just hours before the opening ceremony.
The applicants, who included Korean-born speed skater Victor An, had asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to overturn an International Olympic Committee decided not to invite them to South Korea.
“The applications filed by Russian athletes and coaches have been dismissed,” CAS secretary general Matthieu Reeb told a packed news conference.
The IOC was swift to welcome the decision, the latest twist in the Russian doping scandal, saying the ruling “supports the fight against doping and brings clarity for all athletes”.
The Russian situation has proved highly contentious in the build-up to Pyeongchang, after their team was banned but a certain number of “clean” Russian athletes were allowed to take part as neutrals.
Fifteen of those who lost their bids on Friday were among a group of 28 who controversially had life bans from the Olympics overturned last week by CAS, which cited insufficient evidence.
The other 32, including An, biathlon gold medallist Anton Shipulin and Sergei Ustyugov, a cross-country skiing world champion, were also omitted from the list of Russians invited to Pyeongchang.
“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,” Reeb said.
However, the CAS decision may not be the end of the matter. A source close to the IOC told AFP that the 47 Russians have also lodged a case with a Swiss civil court in Lausanne.
A spokesman for the 168-strong, the neutral Russian team, the “Olympic Athletes from Russia”, declined to comment when approached by AFP.
Russia’s suspension in December follows the uncovering of a systemic doping conspiracy culminating at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, where host nation Russia topped the medals table.
Investigations revealed an elaborate ploy where tainted Russian urine samples were switched with clean ones overnight using a “mousehole” in the wall of the Sochi anti-doping laboratory.
Russia has denied any government links to the conspiracy. But the IOC has suspended its former sports minister, Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, for life.
Russia’s participation has been fiercely debated among athletes and Canada’s team was forced to apologise on Thursday after an alleged altercation at the athletes’ village.
“If you have been caught cheating you need to be gone. It needs to be the same for every country,” said USA bobsledder Nick Cunningham.
“If you’re a clean athlete you should compete. If you’re not a clean athlete then you should not compete. There’s no grey area for me about it.”