LONDON (AP) — Russia lost its appeal Thursday against the Olympic ban on its track and field athletes, a decision which could add pressure on the IOC to exclude the country entirely from next month's games in Rio de Janeiro.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected the appeal of 68 Russian athletes seeking to overturn the ban imposed by the IAAF following allegations of state-sponsored doping and cover-ups.
"Today's judgment has created a level playing field for athletes," world track and field's governing body said in a statement.
However, the arbitration court ruling did not necessarily settle the matter for good. The court stressed the decision is not binding on the International Olympic Committee, which has the final say as the supreme organizer of the games.
"The door is open for the IOC to decide, to determine even on a case-by-case principle whether these athletes are eligible or not," CAS general secretary Mattieu Reeb told reporters outside the court headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The IOC said it would "study and analyze the full decision" and make its own final ruling on the participation of Russian athletes "in the coming days." The Olympics open in Rio on Aug. 5.
CAS upheld the "validity" of the IAAF ban, saying a country whose national federation is suspended is ineligible from entering international competitions, including the Olympics.
The three-person panel ruled that the Russian Olympic Committee "is not entitled to nominate Russian track and field athletes to compete at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games considering that they are not eligible to participate under the IAAF competition rules."
The Russians argued against a collective ban of its track athletes, saying it punishes those who have not been accused of wrongdoing.
IAAF President Sebastian Coe said it was "not a day for triumphant statements."
"I didn't come into this sport to stop athletes from competing," he said. "It is our federation's instinctive desire to include, not exclude."
In Russia, two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva — who attended Tuesday's hearing at CAS — said the decision to uphold the ban on the track and field team represents the "funeral" of her sport.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko also lashed out at the ruling.
"In my view, it's a subjective decision, somewhat political and one with no legal basis," he was quoted as saying by Tass news agency.
CAS said it had no jurisdiction over whether the IOC can accept or refuse the entry of Russian track and field athletes, either those representing their country or competing as "neutral athletes."
Reeb said the Russians have the right to appeal to the Swiss federal tribunal within 30 days. However, an appeal can be only on "procedural grounds," not the merits of the decision, he said.
The IOC last month accepted the IAAF decision to extend a November ban on the Russian track team. And, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press and two other international news agencies last week, Bach was asked whether the IOC would accept the CAS ruling if it upheld the IAAF ban. Bach replied: "Yes."
The IOC executive board said Tuesday it would "explore the legal options" for a possible total ban on Russia but would wait until after the CAS ruling before making a final decision. The IOC has scheduled another board meeting on Sunday to consider the issue.
The World Anti-Doping Agency and other doping bodies have called on the IOC to consider the unprecedented step of kicking out the entire Russian contingent following new allegations of a vast government-organized doping program.
Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, who was commissioned by WADA, issued a report Monday that accused Russia's sports ministry of orchestrating a doping system that affected 28 summer and winter Olympic sports.
Reeb said the Russian Olympic Committee has selected the 68 track and field athletes as part of its Olympic team for Rio.
"Now it is for the International Olympic Committee to determine if these athletes can be confirmed or not," he said. "In the opinion of CAS, because the national federation is suspended, normally these athletes should not compete in Rio, but the IOC was not a party in these conversations and our decision is not binding on the IOC."
"According to the Olympic Charter, they could have the last word who could participate in the Olympic Games because the IOC is the main organizer of the Olympic Games," he added.
Reeb said the CAS panel "expressed some concern" over the IAAF rule adopted last month that allowed for Russian athletes who have been subjected to regular anti-doping tests outside Russia to apply for exemptions to compete as "neutral athletes" in Rio.
Two athletes — Yulia Stepanova, an 800-meter runner and key whistleblower in exposing Russian doping, and Florida-based long jumper Darya Klishina — are the only ones who have received IAAF eligibility.
CAS said the rule, adopted on June 17, "left practically no possibility for the athletes to comply with the criteria."
"In one month the timing was very short, so this is a possibility for interpretation by the IOC," Reeb said.