Sports tribunal begins hearing appeals from 39 barred Russian athletes

Court of Arbitration of Sport's decision not expected before Jan. 30

Sports tribunal begins hearing appeals from 39 barred Russian athletes
Speed skaters Olga Fatkulina, left, and Alexander Rumyantsev, right, are among 39 barred athletes from Russia that will have appeal hearings this week with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in an attempt to overturn their Olympic life bans and clear their names to compete at the Winter Olympics next month. © Getty Images/File/CBC Sports
By Graham Dunbar

The Court of Arbitration of Sport opened a full week of appeal hearings Monday in Geneva for 39 Russian athletes disqualified from the 2014 Sochi Olympics for taking part in a state-backed doping program.

Some athletes hope to overturn their Olympic life bans and clear their names to compete in the invitation-only "Olympic Athlete from Russia" team at the Games, which open Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Verdicts are not expected to be delivered before Jan. 30 or 31, CAS secretary general Matthieu Reeb said, acknowledging it would be at least two days after the official deadline for Olympic entries on Sunday.

Two key prosecution witnesses, Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov and World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren, are set to testify by video or telephone link to the closed-door hearings at a conference center.

Rodchenkov, the former director of the Moscow and Sochi anti-doping laboratories, is now living as a protected witness in the United States.

46 cases from Sochi probed

Reeb said both men would each give evidence in a single block with "no repeated testimonies" for individual athlete hearings.

"They will be heard one day and in one shot," Reeb said. "They will be heard during the week in the presence of the parties, but maybe not all the athletes will be present throughout."

The 39 athletes appealing are among 46 Russian cases from Sochi investigated last year by an International Olympic Committee disciplinary panel.

The IOC judging panel, chaired by Swiss lawyer and IOC executive board member Denis Oswald, found 43 of the athletes guilty of complicity in the Sochi conspiracy. Three athletes were cleared.

Russia's long-planned doping program included storing clean urine from a target list of athletes months before the Sochi Olympics and swapping them during the games for samples tainted with steroids.

2 separate judging panels

The IOC panel believed that supposedly tamper-proof sample bottles were broken into, which seemed to confirm Rodchenkov's claim that Russia's security service, known as the FSB, had found a method to force open the caps.

Swiss law firm Schellenberg Wittner is representing the 39 athletes from seven sports, including several gold medallists, before two separate judging panels. Two judges from Germany are sitting on both of the three-judge CAS panels.

The IOC barred the athletes "despite a lack of specific evidence against any of them and in breach of their fundamental due process rights," the law firm said in a statement.

Among officials arriving at the hearings venue near the European headquarters of the United Nations was International Ice Hockey Federation general secretary Horst Lichtner.

Eight members of Russia's women's hockey team at the Sochi Olympics are among the 39. Russia was finished sixth before being disqualified by the IOC.

Reeb said speed skating cases would be the first hearings heard on Monday.

Modified tracksuits, coats

Russian speed skaters were among a group in Moscow getting their uniforms as potential Olympians.

The red-and-white and gray-and-white tracksuits, as well as gray coats are modified from the original designs drawn up for Team Russia.

As a punishment in fallout from the Sochi scandal, Russia has been denied using its flag and badges which are replaced with IOC-approved symbols. Instead of the Russian Olympic Committee logo, there's now a white circle on the chest with the red inscription "Olympic Athlete from Russia."

The skaters, who must get an IOC invitation to compete in South Korea, were reluctant to discuss the issues around Russia's participation.

Asked what she expected from the Olympics, short track speed skater Emina Malagich said: "Only good things."

Russian Olympians young, clean: Deputy PM

A new generation of young, talented and, above all, clean Russian athletes will compete at next month's Olympics in Pyeongchang, according to Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko.

The Russians must compete under the Olympic flag in South Korea after the International Olympic Committee ruled the country operated a sophisticated doping and coverup program when it hosted the 2014 Sochi Games.

Mutko, who was sports minister at the time, has been barred from the Olympics for life along with 43 athletes, though he and all but one of the athletes have filed appeals.

Those bans, which include 14 medallists , have helped clear the way for younger talent in Russia, Mutko said. While there would usually be about 40 per cent changeover in the Russian team between Olympics, he said, this time 80 per cent of athletes will not have competed in Sochi.

"In practically every event it's an absolutely new, young team," Mutko said in an interview Saturday in a VIP box at the European figure skating championships in Moscow.