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World sports' top appeals court throws out a Russian bid to overturn its track and field ban. Still, the final call on which Russians - if any - go to Rio rests with the International Olympic Committee.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Thursday upheld the ban against Russia's athletics federation - but was careful to stress that it could not decide what this would mean for next month's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The decision followed Monday's publication of an investigation by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which found evidence of state-sponsored systemic doping across an array of Russian sports, not just track and field. As a result, WADA urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to consider a blanket Russian ban across all sports in Rio. The IOC has said it hopes to make a decision on Russia and Rio by Tuesday of next week.
Thursday's CAS ruling upheld the stance of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), namely that Russia's track and field federation (the ARAF) cannot name athletes to compete at Rio. Russian athletes that have demonstrated they are clean to the international authorities, however, could be nominated for competition in Rio by Russia's Olympic Federation (the ROC).
"As a consequence, the CAS Panel confirmed that the ROC is not entitled to nominate Russian track and field athletes to compete at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games considering that they are not eligible to participate under the IAAF competition rules," the CAS ruling said. Yet its next sentence pointed out that Russia could still nominate individual athletes who had demonstrated to international doping monitors that they were clean. Legally, they could then compete under the ROC's colors, but not as part of the suspendended ARAF athletics federation.
WADA said in a statement it was "satisfied" with the CAS decision and that it was now up to the IOC to "consider its responsibilities".
Russia decried the CAS ruling, with Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko calling it "a subjective and somewhat politicized decision for which there is no legal basis." Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that Russia did not consider "the idea of collective responsibility" to be an acceptable form of punishment. "We can only express deep regret," Putin's spokesman added.
Meanwhile, the IAAF welcomed the decision, although its president, Seb Coe, said that "this is not a day for triumphant statements" despite being thankful that CAS had supported "our rules and our power to uphold our rules."
"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 Taskforce 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," Coe said.
German parliamentarian Dagmar Freitag, chair of the Bundestag's sports committee, "welcomed" the CAS ruling, saying it fitted with the decisions taken by the IAAF so far.
"The judgment is an unmistakeable pointer for the IOC. The facts are on the table," Freitag said.
"The IOC cannot hide behind the findings of third parties any more. Above all in the interests of the athletes, this decision should now, finally, be taken; both those already nominated and the possible late additions need clarity as soon as possible."
Germany's anti-doping agency, NADA, appealed for a total Russian ban, saying it was justified "not only politically, but also legally."
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt said that the CAS' verdict "will scare a lot of people," and argued in favor of a Russian ban, saying such a measure would make the world take notice: "This will scare a lot of people, send a strong message," Bolt said, adding that authorities' recent actions showed that "if you cheat or go against the rules," then "serious actions" would follow.
The buck still stops with the IOC
The verdict was careful, however, to stress that CAS had "no jurisdiction" to decide what the IOC should do if Russia does seek to nominate some of its track and field stars and bypass its banned athletics federation. The ruling also said that for the same reason, "CAS found that it had no jurisdiction to determine whether the IOC is entitled to accept or refuse the entry either as representatives of the Russian Federation or as 'neutral athletes' of the Russian track and field athletes entered by the ROC."
The idea of clean Russians competing under neutral colors could be an interim solution. But IOC President Thomas Bach has admitted the situation is complicated.
The IOC had said it hoped to reach a decision on Russia's status at the Rio Olympics by Tuesday of next week. This verdict from CAS effectively leaves the IOC with almost all its options open.
Had CAS supported the Russian appeal, the blanket ban called for by some anti-doping organizations might have proven very difficult to implement.
"In view of the urgency of the matter," the court issued only its decision on Thursday, noting that the panel's judgment was unanimous. "The full Arbitral Award, including the grounds for the Panel's decision, will be issued as soon as possible."
The Rio Olympics opening ceremony takes place on August 5.