Russia lost its appeal against a blanket ban from International Paralympic Committee (IPC), as the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled Tuesday that doping charges were too widespread for the nation's athletes to compete in at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.
The final decision bookends a troubling episode in which an apparently unscrupulous system that prioritizes winning over clean competition has threatened the reputation of Russian athletes.
"Their medals over morals mentality disgusts me," IPC President Philip Craven said when the IPC issued the ban, which he said is a punishment for Russia's state-sponsored cheating attempt rather than an indictment of the athletes themselves, and one he hopes will prompt changes in the Russian sports system.
"Although we are pleased with the decision, it is not a day for celebration and we have enormous sympathy for the Russian athletes who will now miss out on the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games," Mr. Craven said in a statement responding to the appeal's failure. He said the committee would provide the Russian governments with guidelines for a return to full competition, CNN reported.
"It is a sad day for the Paralympic Movement, but we hope also a new beginning," Mr. Craven said. "We hope this decision acts as a catalyst for change in Russia and we can welcome the Russian Paralympic Committee back as a member safe in the knowledge that it is fulfilling its obligations to ensure fair competition for all."
The IPC's blanket ban response differed from that of the International Olympic Committee, which requested individual decisions on competition from the various sport federations and allowed 271 Russian athletes to compete and win 56 medals, the BBC reported. The IOC, however, generated confusion and criticism for its decision to avoid the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) recommendation to ban all Russian athletes.
The Russian Paralympic team's lawyer, Alexei Karpenko, noted the discrepancy.
"Regardless of whether the Russian Paralympics Committee is guilty of the charges, punishing innocent athletes and not allowing them to defend themselves – which was an opportunity afforded to the Russian Olympics athletes – this is a flagrant violation of human rights," Mr. Karpenko said, according to the BBC.
The IPC now risks Russian displeasure, but supporters say it sends a clearer message to the world about the group's commitment to clean competition.
The original ban on Russian Paralympic athletes, which Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko called "more political than judicial," came down from the IPC on Aug. 7. Russia's Paralympic athletes were poised for similar success, Reuters reported, as they have performed competitively on the world stage in the past despite relative indifference at home.
Craven said the blame lay in Russia's government, which "catastrophically failed" the athletes. An independent WADA probe by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren found that Russian officials manipulated athlete urine samples, including 27 samples from Paralympic athletes, since 2011.
"In view of the culture endemic within Russian sport at the very highest levels, NPC Russia appears unable or unwilling to ensure compliance with and the enforcement of the IPC's Anti-Doping Code," the IPC said in a statement.
The IPC has expressed hope this will mark a "new beginning" for competition for Russia's traditionally talented athletes.