Thirteen Russian athletes and two coaches banned for life for doping and then controversially cleared of wrongdoing may be headed to the Pyeongchang Olympics after all, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Saturday.
Already 169 Russians have been cleared to compete as 'clean' athletes despite a blanket ban on Russia from taking part in the Winter Olympics following revelations of state-sponsored doping.
Just six days from the opening ceremony of the February 9-25 Games, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the cases of the 15 would be examined by a specialist IOC panel who would rule on whether they would be allowed to take part. "We will take an individual view of each of these athletes before reaching a decision," he told a press conference following the first day of a two-day IOC executive board meeting in Pyeongchang.
IOC chiefs were stunned last Thursday when the Court for Arbitration for Sport overturned life bans imposed on 28 Russian athletes linked to a state-sponsored doping scheme operating at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, ruling them potentially eligible for participation in Pyeongchang.
However, of the 28, 13 have either retired from sport or are unavailable for another undisclosed reason, leaving only 15 still eligible to take part, according to a source close to the case. Adams said that the IOC's invitation review panel will examine each case individually before making a decision but promised that would happen before the Games get under way.
The IOC's disciplinary commission banned 43 Russian athletes for life and disqualified all Russians from competing at the Pyeongchang Games over the doping conspiracy. It later said that 169 athletes who had proved they were clean would be allowed to compete.
Following an appeal against the life bans by 42 athletes, CAS cleared 28 citing insufficient evidence against them, and also lifted bans on 11 others, but barred them from taking part in the 2018 Olympics. Adams said that the IOC reserved the right to appeal against the CAS decision, viewed by Olympic officials as undermining the fight against doping in sport.
Last week, the IOC responded to the court's ruling by saying that lifting the ban "does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation" to the Games. He was speaking after the first day of a two-day IOC board meeting which will be followed by a two-day full IOC session from Monday.
Last week's CAS hearings were a result of allegations of a vast state-sponsored doping programme contained in the report into Sochi authored by sports law professor Richard McLaren for the World Anti-Doping Agency. His explosive findings laid out the workings of the programme - from the use of secret state agents to passing urine samples out of testing labs through mouse-holes.
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