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Abrahamson: Russian athletes denied appeal to compete in PyeongChang

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — For all the angst over the timing of the decision the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration ...

Posted: Feb 9, 2018 9:30 AM
Updated: Feb 9, 2018 9:30 AM

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — For all the angst over the timing of the decision the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport issued Friday morning in denying the appeals of 47 Russian athletes and coaches to take part in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, which — um, start Friday night — the decision itself was actually straightforward and, to be honest, easy.

Throughout the appeals process, the International Olympic Committee was winning, and one could expect the IOC to keep winning.

Which it did, on Friday, temporarily putting the Russian doping saga on hold while the focus shifts to the lighting of the cauldron and, you know, the Olympic Games. 

Here’s the backstory of the CAS decision.

When it comes to such matters, the law can’t stand things that are arbitrary.

Truth: under the law, you can get away with a lot of stuff. 

But when you act in an arbitrary way, that’s just not OK. No way. No how.

The easy way out: when you come up with a plan, and you can articulate reasons for the plan, whether the reasons are or are not slam-dunk great, then you have a reasonably legitimate chance to prevail.

Essentially, that’s what happened here.

The ruling obviously avoids what would have been the tumult if not chaos of integrating some number — up to 47 — more “Olympic Athletes from Russia” into the delegation here even as the Games were getting underway, a process that doubtlessly would have drawn, and appropriately, worldwide condemnation. 

It also perhaps puts onto the backburner until the close of the Games the Russian doping matter— or then again, maybe not, given the extraordinary emotion the Russian doping matter has elicited. 

To be sure, there is yet more legal reckoning and more political posturing to come with this long-running drama, now into its fourth year and second Olympics — with no end in sight.

For once, meanwhile, the IOC got to claim a win and, at that, a big one. It issued a statement that said, simply:

“We welcome this decision which supports the fight against doping and brings clarity for all athletes.”

To go back to what got us to Friday’s decision:

Last week, in assessing the landscape of Russian athletes from Sochi 2014, 28 were cleared of misconduct and 11 liberated of life bans the IOC had sought to impose. 

This led — skipping over some steps here as well as a companion case, which was rejected on jurisdictional grounds — to the filing of appeals from, first, 32 athletes and then 15 athletes and coaches who alleged they should be able to take part in PC2018.

The legal issue was the space between “eligible” and “invite” and, if so, whether the IOC holds the key at its Games to such invites.

The IOC’s position: for sure yes, because taking part in the Games is a “privilege,” and just because you’re not guilty per CAS that does not make you “innocent.”

The Russian position: suspicion does not equal proof of misconduct, and either you have such proof, or you don’t; if you don’t, then you’re acting arbitrarily, and arbitrary action by definition is never consistently defensible.

What the three-member CAS ruling Friday said:

In suspending the Russian Olympic Committee, the IOC offered individual athletes the chance to come to the 2018 Games, as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” and “via prescribed conditions — a process that was designed to balance the IOC’s interest in the global fight against doping and the interests of individual athletes from Russia.”

The Russian side, CAS said, acknowledged the IOC had the authority to institute this process.

The OAR number stands at 168.

Now for the key:

CAS said the Russian side “did not demonstrate” that the process the IOC put into place, two special panels to vet and independently review each individual application, was “carried out in a discriminatory, arbitrary or unfair manner.”

Further, CAS said, there was no evidence that either of those two panels “improperly exercised their discretion.”

Easy.

Really.

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