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.