Performers carry the Russian national flag during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, March 16, 2014. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) - Russia has lost its appeal against a ban from next month's Rio Paralympics because of a state-sponsored doping programme, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said on Tuesday.
The decision to exclude Russia's team, initially made on Aug. 7 by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), means at least 260 competitors from the country are now set to miss the Sept. 7-18 event.
The IPC went further than the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which stopped short of a blanket ban on Russia at this month's Rio Games and left the decision instead in the hands of international sports federations.
CAS, sport's highest tribunal, said its panel found the IPC "did not violate any procedural rule in dealing with the disciplinary process" which led to Russia's suspension.
It added the ruling was "proportionate in the circumstances" and that the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) "did not file any evidence contradicting the facts on which the IPC decision was based".
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko called the CAS decision unlawful and politically motivated.
"There were no reasons to dismiss (the appeal) but it happened," Mutko was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency before adding "those bodies that should defend Paralympians do not do it and punish them instead".
Russia can now appeal to the Swiss Federal Court although it can only overturn the CAS ruling on the basis of a procedural mistake and not on the merits of the case.
Alexei Karpenko, a lawyer representing the RPC, said an appeal would be considered once CAS had issued its full, reasoned decision.
The whole dispute centres on a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report that found the Russian government and the FSB security service had, over years, covered up hundreds of doping cases across the majority of Olympic sports and Paralympic events.
Russia previously said the IPC's decision was politically motivated and would punish dozens of innocent athletes.
Although not widely followed or celebrated in Russia, where rights campaigners say many disabled people are marginalised by regressive social attitudes and inadequate state support, Russian para-athletes are some of the best in the world.
Their team topped the medal table at the 2014 Winter Paralympics in the Russian city of Sochi after taking second place behind China at London 2012.
The country's exclusion from Rio will hit hard in a country that has long drawn pride and prestige from its history of sporting success.
Following Tuesday's verdict, the IPC said Russia had been banned for its inability to fulfil its membership "responsibilities and obligations", particularly the anti-doping code.
"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," said IPC president Philip Craven in a statement.
"It is a sad day for the Paralympic Movement but we hope also a new beginning," he said, adding that he wanted the ruling to be a "catalyst for change" in Russia.
The IPC said the 267 places secured by Russian athletes would now be redistributed.
(Additional reporting by Joshua Franklin in Zurich and Alexander Winning in Moscow, editing by Alison Williams and Tony Jimenez)