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Court clears 28 Russian athletes accused of doping

Matthier Reeb, secretary general of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, read out the panel's ruling in South Korea. Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Thursday cleared 28 Russian athletes accused of doping at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The lawyers - based in the Swiss city of Lausanne - ruled there was not enough proof that the athletes had benefited from a system of state-sponsored doping at the event in Russia.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had banned 39 athletes following statements from Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory.

He said he had given banned steroids to athletes and swapped their tainted samples for clean urine in Sochi on the orders from Russian state sports officials.

His testimony was supported by documents and other whistleblowers.

The combination led to the suspension of Russia’s Olympic Committee from Pyeongchang Olympics which start on 9 February.

28 appeals upheld

But the court on Thursday found the IOC had failed to prove its case.

"After examinining each individual case, the court upheld 28 appeals and partially upheld the 11 remaining ones," CAS secretary-general Matthieu Reeb said.

"The CAS arbitrators unanimously found that the evidence put forward by the IOC in relation to this matter did not have the same weight in each individual case. This is why 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.

"This does not mean that these 28 athletes are declared innocent but in their case due to insufficent evidence, the appeals are upheld, the sanctions annulled and their individual results achieved in Sochi are reinstated."

Thursday's decision means that Russia will reclaim top spot in the medals table. At the end of the 2014 games, Russia boasted 33 medals including 13 golds. Norway and Canada were second and third.

But after the IOC's sanctions Russia fell to fourth in the rankings after losing two golds, six silvers and a bronze.

Putin welcomes verdict

Russia has repeatedly denied any state involvement in the doping which was exposed by an independent report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

"We are very glad for our athletes," said President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

"The decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport proves that energetic work to stand up for our rights in court and elsewhere is justified. It can be effective and it should continue."

"We never had any doubts that our athletes absolutely deserved their medals they won at Sochi. It is good that the court fully confirmed this and proved their innocence," said prime minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Individual Russian athletes are able to compete in the Pyeongchang Olympics as neutrals if they can prove their anti-doping credentials.

But the IOC said on Thursday that the 28 would not necessarily be invited to Pyeongchang.

“Not being sanctioned does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation,” it said.