GENEVA — No longer disqualified from the Olympics, the 28 Russian athletes who won their doping appeal cases Thursday could still be blocked from competing at this month’s Pyeongchang Games.
The International Olympic Committee said it was not obliged to invite the 28 Russians to compete in South Korea.
“Not being sanctioned does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation,” the IOC said in a statement issued after the Court of Arbitration for Sport announced its verdicts.
The Olympic body noted the CAS observation that its ruling “does not mean that these 28 athletes are declared innocent.”
However, some evidence of organized Russian doping at the 2014 Sochi Games was accepted by the CAS judges, who maintained the disqualifications of a further 11 Russian athletes. They included two-time bobsled gold medalist Alexander Zubkov, and involved cases where athlete urine samples from Sochi revealed abnormal levels of salt or mixed gender DNA in recent reanalysis.
Olympic life bans for those 11 were reduced by CAS to a simple expulsion from the Pyeongchang Games, which open Feb. 9.
“(The) IOC regrets very much that — according to the CAS press release — the panels did not take this proven existence of the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system into consideration for the other 28 cases,” the IOC said. “This may have a serious impact on the future fight against doping.”
An Olympic disciplinary panel, chaired by IOC executive board member Denis Oswald, last year investigated 46 Russian athletes and found 43 guilty of complicity in a Sochi doping program. Two CAS appeal panels heard 39 of those cases last week in Geneva.
The CAS judges did not agree with the IOC panels that it was proven many individuals had their steroid-tainted samples swapped for clean urine at the Sochi testing laboratory.
“The CAS required an even higher threshold on the necessary level of evidence than the Oswald Commission and former CAS decisions,” the IOC said Thursday.
The 28 overturned bans create more uncertainty for the IOC and winter sports governing bodies, which must assess the impact on Pyeongchang entries.
“I think that the least the IOC could do is allow them to participate,” Philippe Baertsch, a lawyer for the athletes, told The Associated Press.
A team of 168 “Olympic Athletes from Russia” was already set to compete in South Korea after being invited by the IOC. That process involved two IOC panels assessing hundreds of Russians athletes for suspicions of doping.
The Lausanne-based IOC said it would consider challenging the CAS rulings at Switzerland’s supreme court. However, that appeal rests on seeing the detailed reasons for the judgments, which were not published Thursday and seem unlikely to be written soon.
AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth in Moscow contributed to this report.