The international sports tribunal on Thursday rejected an appeal by Russian athletes against a Rio Olympics ban amid mounting pressure for action over state-run doping in Russia.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling on track and field is seen as a key indicator as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) debates whether to order a blanket ban on Russia from the Rio Games that start August 5.

The IOC executive board is to hold more talks on Sunday and a decision on a ban could be announced after, an Olympic spokesperson said.

Russia is a sporting powerhouse whose absence from Rio would create the biggest crisis in decades for the Olympic movement.

But there have been widespread calls for exemplary sanctions against the state-orchestrated cheating campaign.

“This will scare a lot of people, or send a strong message that the sport is serious about cleaning up,” six-time Olympic sprint title winner Usain Bolt of Jamaica said of the court ruling.

CAS said it had unanimously “dismissed” an appeal by the Russian Olympic Committee and 67 athletes against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ban.

Russia’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko called the CAS decision “politicised” and illegal. Russia has denied any state involvement in the doping crisis.

– Athletics ‘funeral’ –

The 67 included two time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva and world champion men’s 110m hurdler Sergey Shubenkov.

The IAAF ban covers all international competition and follows an investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency last year which found widespread “state-sponsored” doping.

Isinbayeva slammed the CAS ruling as a “funeral for athletics.”

High jumper Maria Kuchina — a medal hopeful for the Games — was competing at an event near Moscow that she hoped would be a warm-up for Brazil when the news she had been dreading came through.

“My first reaction was: it’s just not true! How can it be! The world’s going crazy,” 23-year-old Kuchina told journalists.

Originally, 68 Russians had appealed against the IAAF ban but the governing body has cleared US-based long jumper Darya Klishina to compete in Rio.

The IAAF has said Russian athletes who prove they were not tainted by their country’s corrupt system could be cleared for the Games.

With the Olympics just two weeks away that list will inevitably be short, but CAS judges ruled that any Russian track and field competitor who meets the IAAF criteria can compete in Brazil.

Separately, an IOC ethics commission is to rule on the case of Yuliya Stepanova, an 800m runner who turned whistleblower on the doping.

– ‘Level playing field’ –

The IAAF welcomed the CAS tribunal ruling.

“Today’s judgement has created a level playing field for athletes,” a statement from the governing body said.

The CAS ruling has been the focus of Olympic attention since an independent WADA report this week said Russia ran a “state-dictated failsafe system” of drug cheating in 30 sports at the 2014 Sochi Games and other major events.

IOC president Thomas Bach has called Russia’s actions a “shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sport and on the Olympic Games.”

According to a report released this week by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, the doping included the switching of Russian samples by secret service operatives at the 2013 world championships in Moscow.

It said the operation was directed by the sportsministry, with help from the FSB intelligence agency.

WADA, backed by the United States and other nations, has called for Russia to be completely banned from the Rio Games.

The IAAF suspended Russia in November after an inquiry which first spoke of “state-sponsored” doping.

It refused to lift the suspension last month, meaning no Russian athletes could take part in Rio.

Russia was the second most successful athletics nation at the 2012 London Olympics, behind the United States, with seven gold medals, four silver and five bronze.

Originally, Russia had 17 medals. But several have already been lost or are at risk because of doping failures.

The IOC has not yet reconfirmed the results of the London Olympics following the retesting of doping samples.

IAAF president Sebastian Coe welcomed the CAS ruling but said: “This is not a day for triumphant statements.

“I didn’t come into this sport to stop athletes from competing.”

He said that after the Rio Games an IAAF task force “will continue to work with Russia to establish a clean safe environment for its athletes so that its federation and team can return to international recognition and competition.” – Agence France-Presse

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