Olympic doping bans overturned for 28 Russian athletes

ZURICH, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Twenty-eight Russian athletes have had their Olympic doping bans overturned and their results from the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi reinstated after their appeals were upheld by sport's highest tribunal on Thursday.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said in a statement that it had found insufficient evidence during last week's hearing in Geneva that the 28, banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), were guilty of anti-doping violations in Sochi.

However, it is not clear yet whether any of the 28 will be able to compete in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which start on Feb. 9.

"With respect to these 28 athletes, the appeals are upheld, the sanctions annulled and their individual results achieved in Sochi 2014 are reinstated," said the Lausanne-based tribunal.

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Japan's Keiichi Sato falls after the finish line during the men's 15 km biathlon standing at the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games in Rosa Khutor, March 14, 2014. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk (RUSSIA - Tags: SPORT OLYMPICS BIATHLON)
Skiers compete during the men's cross-country 50 km mass start free event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor February 23, 2014. REUTERS/Carlos Barria (RUSSIA - Tags: OLYMPICS SPORT SKIING)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 22: Venue Staff celebrate following the completion of the Snowboard Men's and Ladies' Parallel Slalom Finals on day 15 of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 22, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Russia's Adelina Sotnikova performs at the Figure Skating Exhibition Gala at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 22, 2014. AFP PHOTO / YURI KADOBNOV (Photo credit should read YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. clears a gate during the second run of the women's alpine skiing slalom event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center ros February 21, 2014. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler (RUSSIA - Tags: SPORT SKIING OLYMPICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21: (L-R) Anna Woerner of Germany, Georgia Simmerling of Canada, Fanny Smith of Switzerland compete in the Freestyle Skiing Womens' Ski Cross Quarter Finals on day 14 of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 20: Annalisa Drew of the United States crashes in the Freestyle Skiing Ladies' Ski Halfpipe Finals on day thirteen of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 20, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 20: Jason Lamy-Chappuis of France performs a trial jump ahead of the Nordic Combined Men's Team LH during day 13 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at RusSki Gorki Jumping Center on February 20, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Russia's Adelina Sotnikova competes during the Figure Skating Women's free skating Program at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (RUSSIA - Tags: OLYMPICS SPORT FIGURE SKATING)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 19: Alena Zavarzina of Russia competes in the Snowboard Women's Parallel Giant Slalom Semifinals on day twelve of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 17: (EDITORS NOTE: This image was created with a variable plane focus lens) Athletes compete in the Women's 12.5 km Mass Start during day ten of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on February 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 17: A coach walks down a tunnel as the race is delayed due to fog and poor visablity at the Men's 15 km Mass Start during day ten of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on February 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 18: Martin Fourcade of France practises at the shooting range in foggy conditions before the Men's 15 km Mass Start during day 11 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 17: Guangpu Qi of China practices prior to the Freestyle Skiing Men's Aerials Qualification on day ten of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 17: Zhongqing Liu of China competes in the Freestyle Skiing Men's Aerials Qualification on day ten of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 16: Russian President Vladimir Putin watches the men's 4x10 K cross-country relay at the 2014 Winter Olympics, on February 16, 2014 in Krasnaya Polyana, Sochi, Russia. Putin and Medvedev are spending the weekend together in Sochi. (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 16: Pilot Thomas Florschuetz and Kevin Kuske of Germany team 2 make a run during the Men's Two-Man Bobsleigh heats on Day 9 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Sliding Center Sanki on February 16, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Poland's skaters on the way to second place in the women's speed skating team pursuit Gold-medal race at the Adler Arena in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games February 22, 2014. REUTERS/Phil Noble (RUSSIA - Tags: OLYMPICS SPORT SPEED SKATING)
Latvia's goalie Edgars Masalskis makes a save against the Czech Republic during the first period of their men's preliminary round ice hockey game at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games February 14, 2014. REUTERS/Martin Rose/Pool (RUSSIA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY OLYMPICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 14: Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway competes during the Alpine Skiing Men's Super Combined Downhill on day 7 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 14: Lydia Lassila of Australia competes in the Freestyle Skiing Ladies' Aerials Finals on day seven of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
A person climbs on the Bolshoi Dome, one of the ice hockey venues, before the medals ceremony during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 14, 2014. REUTERS/Marko Djurica (RUSSIA - Tags: SPORT OLYMPICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: Bobby Brown of the United States competes in the Freestyle Skiing Men's Ski Slopestyle Finals during day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: (Editors Note: Image was created using multiple exposure in camera) Alexei Almoukov of Australia competes in the Men's Individual 20 km during day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 12: Torger Nergaard of Norway slides with the stone during Curling Men's Round Robin match between Norway and Germany during day five of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Ice Cube Curling Center on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 11: Lea Lemare of France during the Ladies' Normal Hill Individual trial on day 4 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center on February 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Britain's Katie Summerhayes reacts at the finish line during the women's freestyle skiing slopestyle qualification event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake (RUSSIA - Tags: SPORT SKIING OLYMPICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Shaun White of the U.S. crashes during the men's snowboard halfpipe final event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, in Rosa Khutor February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (RUSSIA - Tags: SPORT OLYMPICS SPORT SNOWBOARDING)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 09: Christopher Mazdzer of the United States competes during the Men's Luge Singles on Day 2 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Sliding Center Sanki on February 9, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 09: Gabriela Soukalova of Czech Republic competes in the Women's 7.5 km Sprint during day two of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on February 9, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Russia's Yulia Lipnitskaya performs during the Figure Skating Gala Exhibition at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, February 22, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (RUSSIA - Tags: SPORT FIGURE SKATING SPORT OLYMPICS)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 08: Competitors lie in the snow next to the finish line after competing in the Ladies' Skiathlon 7.5 km Classic + 7.5 km Free during day one of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on February 8, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Eleven other athletes were confirmed by CAS to have committed doping violations. However, CAS reduced their lifetime Olympic bans to a suspension from this year's Games.

The IOC had previously banned Russia from Pyeongchang as a result of its "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of the anti-doping system.

Individual Russian athletes are able to compete as neutrals if they can prove their anti-doping credentials but the IOC said on Thursday that the 28 would not necessarily be invited to Pyeongchang. "Not being sanctioned does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation," it said.

The confirmation of eleven cases "clearly demonstrates once more the existence of the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014," it added.

The IOC regretted that CAS "did not take this proven existence of the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system into consideration for the other 28 cases."

Cross-country skier Alexander Legkov, who won gold in the 50 kilometers and silver in 4x10 km, and Alexander Tretyakov, who won gold in the men’s individual skeleton, were among those to be cleared.

Bobsleigh double gold medallist Alexander Zubkov was one of the eleven whose doping offenses were confirmed.

Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov said the CAS ruling had restored the "good name" of Russian athletes, Interfax news agency reported.

Jim Walden, lawyer for Russia’s former anti-doping chief-turned whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, said the ruling provided "a very small measure of punishment for some athletes but a complete ‘get out of jail free card’ for most."

Walden added that Rodchenkov "testified fully and credibly" at CAS and his evidence was verified by forensic evidence and other whistleblowers.

Russia has repeatedly denied any state involvement in the doping which was exposed by an independent report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

CAS said its mandate was "not to determine generally whether there was an organized scheme allowing the manipulation of doping control samples....but was strictly limited to dealing with 39 individual cases and to assess the evidence applicable to each athlete on an individual basis."

A total of 43 Russian athletes were banned by the IOC. Three more are still waiting to have their appeals heard and one -- bobsledder Maxim Belugin -- has not appealed. (Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Chopra/Mitch Phillips)

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