The Olympic Games are set to start in just hours and there’s one big question that remains unanswered — which Russian athletes will be allowed to compete?
Part of the International Olympic Committee’s ban on Russian athletes — specifically, the decision to bar any Russians from competition who have been caught for doping but accepted punishment and complied with sanctions — is “unenforceable,” according to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS).
“The IOC Decision deprives the Russian athletes of the presumption of innocence and rather establishes a presumption of guilt,” CAS said in a news release. The court is tasked with mediating disputes involving the Olympics.
The decision was announced Thursday with respect to the appeals of one swimmer, Yulia Efimova, and two rowers, Anastasia Karabelshikova and Ivan Podshivalov.
Rowing events are set to start Saturday.
The court says it should now be up to the International Rowing Federation to decide “without delay” whether or not Karabelshikova and Podshivalov can compete.
The rowing federation said on its website it will update the public on the cases.
All of this is occurring as the Opening Ceremonies kick off Friday. Some competitions are already underway.
Russia’s first win
A total of 271 Russian athletes were cleared to take part in the Rio Olympics, Alexander Zhukov, president of the Russian Olympics Committee, told reporters in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday.
The International Olympic Committee confirmed the number in a statement issued in the evening.
However, an all-inclusive list of the 118 Russian competitors banned from competing in Rio has not been made public.
Many consider the IOC’s decision a victory for Russia, a nation that the independent World Anti-Doping Agency slammed for having what it called a state-sponsored doping program.
Critics had called for the entire team to be banned to show systematic cheating is unacceptable.
One man in Moscow told CNN’s Matthew Chance: “This victory shows that Russia is respected, and so is our strength.”
A three-person IOC panel had assessed which athletes from Russia can take part after the World Anti-Doping Agency report last month.
Hundreds of Russian athletes watched Thursday night as their national flag was raised finally on a pole at the Olympic village, joining the flags of the other 205 nations.
Zhukov told reporters that no team has been drug tested as much as Russia.
“Each and every sportsperson was checked and tested, and the international federations checked them and they concluded and made the decision that there were negative … a huge amount of negative test results that indicates that the huge amount of sportsmen are completely clean.”
How we got here
An independent WADA report undertaken by professor Richard McLaren and published last month alleged that wide-scale doping by Russian athletes had been covered up by the country’s security services over a number of years with the full knowledge of the ministry of sport.
WADA called for a blanket ban on Russian athletes in Rio as a result but the IOC initially opted to leave the decision up to the governing bodies of individual sports. The IOC then later stated it would compile a three-person panel to determine which Russian athletes would be cleared to take part before the Games begin on Friday.
The uncertainty this back and forth has caused led to a war of words between WADA and the IOC in recent days over who was to blame for the uncertainty.
Speaking Tuesday, Bach called for a complete overhaul of the anti-doping system. He said his organization could not be blamed for the timing of the McLaren report, published just two weeks before the commencement of the Rio Games, or the fact that information previously offered to WADA was not followed up.
Bach also defended the IOC’s decision not to take the “nuclear option” of issuing a blanket ban on Russian athletes at the Games, stating that would be unfair to clean athletes within the country.
However, WADA president, Craig Reedie, hit back telling IOC delegates that although anti-doping systems weren’t perfect, not all of them were broken. He also took aim at an IOC delegate who had alleged Reedie was more interested in self-promotion, calling such claims “offensive.”
WADA spokesperson, Ben Nichols, told CNN Wednesday, meanwhile, that his organization had been consistent in recommending an all-out ban that was supported widely by governments, athletes and the public. But Nichols added that WADA can only make recommendations and has to respect the final decision of the IOC.