As last-minute preparations are underway in anticipation of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games opening in Pyeongchang, South Korea on February 9, more Russian athletes are preparing to head east and participate in the competitions.
On Thursday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) based in Lausanne, Switzerland announced that 28 Russian athletes that were banned for life by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) late last year, following an investigation into allegations of doping violations that emerged after the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi, would be lifted.
“In 28 cases, the evidence collected was found to be insufficient to establish that an anti-doping rule violation was committed by the athletes concerned,” reads the text of the press release issued by the court.
“With respect to these 28 athletes, the appeals are upheld, the sanctions annulled and their individual results achieved in Sochi 2014 are reinstated.”
The court also partially upheld 11 athletes – doping bans were overturned for them but they will not join this year’s Olympics. A hearing for the remaining three athletes was postponed.
Following last year’s publication of the McLaren Report, 42 Russian athletes were banned for life from any future Olympics, while some of them were also stripped of their medals for violating anti-doping rules. The IOC imposed a fine of $15 million on the Russian Olympic committee and banned Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko for life from the Olympics for his role in the doping program at the time of the 2014 Sochi Games, when he was Russia’s sports minister.
Among the reinstated athletes are two Olympic gold medalists, bobsledders Dmitry Trunenkov and Aleksei Negodailo; a world champion in skeleton, Aleksander Tretiakov; cross-country skiing gold medalist Maxim Vylegzhanin; and Olga Fatkulina, a world champion in speedskating.
The Kremlin issued a statement, saying the Russian government is “very happy for the athletes.”
“This information about the [court’s] decision regarding our athletes confirms that active efforts to protect their rights in courts and in other ways are justified, they can be effective and they must continue,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call with journalists.
At the same time, only the International Olympic Committee will rule on whether Russia can compete as a nation in Pyeongchang. Otherwise Russian athletes will march into the Olympic stadium in eight days under a neutral flag, namely the iconic white flag emblazoned with five rings of the Olympics.
Earlier, President Vladimir Putin asked Russia’s Olympic athletes to forgive Russian authorities for failing to protect them from outside pressures.
“Please forgive us for failing to protect you from that [such attacks],” Putin said at a meeting with athletes on Wednesday.
Nearly 3,000 athletes are expected to compete in the games this year, coming from 90 countries. Russia is sending 169 of its top sportsmen and women.