CAS dismisses Olympic ban on doping offenders

BERLIN, (Reuters) – The Court of Arbitration for Sport  (CAS) cleared the way yesterday for dozens of past doping  offenders to compete at next year’s Olympics after rejecting an  International Olympic Committee (IOC) eligibility rule as  invalid.

The controversial Rule 45, introduced in 2008, banned  athletes including Olympic 400 metres champion LaShawn Merritt  from participating at the next Olympic Games if they have been  suspended for doping for six months or longer, but the  regulation was rejected by CAS as invalid and unenforceable.

The Court’s ruling means that American Merritt, the highest  profile name affected by the decision, can now defend his title  in London. CAS said the rule was not in compliance with the  IOC’s own charter and the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code.

“I am thrilled to have this uncertainty removed for the 2012  season and would like to thank the U.S. Olympic Committee for  pursuing this case before CAS,” Merritt said in a statement. “I look forward to representing my country and defending my  title in the 400 metres next summer in London at the Olympic  Games, and will prepare with even more determination than ever  before.”

Merritt was banned for 21 months after testing positive in  2009 and 2010 for a banned substance. His ban ended in July and  he competed at the world athletics championships in South Korea  in August, winning the silver medal behind Grenada’s Kirani  James and gold in the 4x400m relay.

The IOC, which wanted the rule more commonly known as ‘Osaka  Rule’ to act as a further deterrent for athletes, said it would  now seek tougher sentences in the new WADA code. The Olympic body had argued the rule was not a sanction but  an eligibility rule but critics said athletes were being  punished twice, once through a ban and then by missing the  Olympics.

“We were disappointed of course because the rule was meant  to protect the clean athletes… so we’re a little surprised,  disappointed,” IOC president Jacques Rogge told Reuters  Television in Lausanne.

“We are going to move to change the WADA anti-doping code at  its revision in 2013 to establish a rule that has the same  effect as the one that has been invalidated now,” Rogge said.

The verdict, which strengthens WADA’s authority in doping  matters, also allows dozens more athletes banned from winter  Games under the same rule to make a return at the Sochi 2014  winter Olympics if their doping suspensions have ended by then.

“CAS has come to the view that Rule 45 of the IOC Charter is  not one of eligibility, and considers it instead to be a  sanction additional to that imposed under the Code,” WADA said.

“We are certain therefore that the IOC will make appropriate  changes to their Charter pursuant to the opinion to ensure Code  compatibility.
“The (WADA) Code is due to be reviewed in 2012-13 and there  may be suggested changes to the Code made as a consequence of  the opinion. If so they will form part of the consultation  process with any changes to be approved at the next WADA world  conference in Johannesburg in November 2013.”

The International Association of Athletics Federations  (IAAF) told Reuters it estimated some 50 track and field  athletes could be affected by the verdict.

Germany’s most decorated winter Olympian, speedskater  Claudia Pechstein, who was suspended for two years in 2009 and  wants to compete in next year’s London Games in cycling and to  race in the 2014 Games, said she was pleased by the decision.

“I am totally happy. There could not have been a different  verdict. Justice has prevailed and now the path is clear for my  tenth Olympic medal,” she told reporters.

Cyclist David Millar, banned from all future Games under a  similar British Olympic rule that could now be challenged, said  the decision was a step in the right direction.

“A lifetime ban for a first offence does not encourage  rehabilitation nor education, two things that are necessary for  the future prevention of doping in sport,” Millar said.

“I hope this decision will pave the way for the development  of global sports, and to creating a system that all athletes and  sports fans can understand and believe in.”

The British Olympic Association (BOA), however, insisted its  by-law would remain in place despite the prospect of potential  challenges opened up by the CAS verdict.

“This is a by-law introduced with support of the athletes  for the athletes. It has consistently had 90 percent support  from the athletes,” BOA chairman Colin Moynihan told reporters.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said he was glad the issue was off  the table well ahead of the London Olympics.
“This decision does not diminish our commitment to the fight  against doping, but rather ensures that athletes and National  Olympic Committees have certainty as they prepare for London,”  he said.

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