The Court of Arbitration for Sport has overturned a controversial International Olympic Committee rule that had banned athletes who had completed a doping suspension from participating in the ensuing Olympic Games.
Commonly known in Olympic circles as the "Osaka Rule," any athlete who had served and completed a doping suspension of more than six months was ineligible to participate in the next Olympic Games.
The CAS, after an appeal from numerous National Olympic Committees led by the United States, decided the IOC's rule was invalid.
"The CAS Arbitral Panel came to the conclusion that the "Osaka Rule" was more properly characterized as a disciplinary sanction, rather than a pure condition of eligibility to compete in the Olympic Games," the CAS said in a statement. "Such a disciplinary sanction is not in compliance with Article 23.2.2 of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC), which provides that the Signatories of the Code may not introduce provisions that change the effect of periods of ineligibility provisions of the WADC, because it adds further ineligibility to the WADC anti-doping sanction after that sanction has been served."
In essence, the IOC's rule extended the athlete's suspension.
The decision will give numerous athletes, including American sprinter LaShawn Merritt, a chance to participate in the 2012 London Games.
Merritt, the 400 meter gold medalist in the 2008 Beijing Games, was suspended for two years for using a banned substance found in an over-the-counter male enhancement product. His penalty, which ended in July, was reduced by three months because he cooperated fully with authorities.
While being eligible to compete in other events, Merritt still would have been banned from the 2012 Olympics under the IOC rule.
The IOC, which has stated it will comply with the CAS decision, had contended that it should be able to dictate eligibility for the Olympics.
"On behalf of the U.S. Olympic Committee, I'd like to thank the IOC for their willingness to participate in this process," USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said in a statement. "This proceeding was handled with respect and professionalism from the outset as both parties sought clarity on the rule. Like the IOC, we are in full support of clean competition and stringent anti-doping penalties. This decision does not diminish our commitment to the fight against doping, but rather ensures that athletes and National Olympic Committees have certainty as they prepare for London."
The CAS added in its decision that the IOC can propose an amendment to the World Anti-Doping Code that would enforce a stricter rule on Olympic eligibility.