With just over two weeks until the opening ceremony, Russia still doesn't know whether its athletes — all or even some — will be competing in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It may all come down to the lawyers.
While the IOC decided Tuesday to ban from the Rio Games all Russian Sports Ministry officials and other administrators implicated in allegations of a state-run doping program, it delayed a ruling on whether to take the unprecedented step of barring the entire Russian Olympic team.
The International Olympic Committee said it "will explore the legal options with regard to a collective ban of all Russian athletes for the Olympic Games 2016 versus the rights to individual justice."
The IOC has also said it could let individual international sports federations decide on whether to ban Russians from their events in Rio, just as the IAAF has done by ruling track and field athletes from the games. The 28 international federations that govern the individual sports at the summer games have made clear that they do not support a blanket ban,
The IOC's legal options may become clearer after Thursday, when the highest court in sports will rule on an appeal by 68 Russian track and field athletes seeking to overturn their ban from the games.
Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva was among those arguing the Russian track and field team's case Tuesday in Geneva at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Should the court rule Thursday in their favor, it would seemingly rule out the chance of the IOC imposing a blanket ban.
If the court upholds the IAAF's exclusion of the track athletes, however, that would keep the possibility of a total ban in play. Further appeals are also possible, meaning that the final word on the Russians may go down to the wire before Aug. 5, when the Rio games open.
Still, it will take a major leap for the IOC to impose the ultimate sanction of kicking out Russia entirely. IOC President Thomas Bach has repeatedly called for a balance between "individual justice and collective punishment."
No country as a whole has ever been barred from the games for doping, and Russia is a major force in the Olympic movement as well as a sports powerhouse. The last time Russia was missing from the Olympics was when it boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Games in retaliation for the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the doping allegations "a dangerous return to ... letting politics interfere with sport."
"The Olympic movement, which is a tremendous force for uniting humanity, once again could find itself on the brink of division," he said in a statement Monday after the release of the report into Russian doping issued by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren.
The 15-member IOC executive board met by teleconference Tuesday to consider its moves following McLaren's report.
The report, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, accused the Russian Sports Ministry, headed by Vitaly Mutko, of overseeing the doping of the country's Olympic athletes on a scale larger than previous alleged. It said the ministry had help from Russia's intelligence service, the FSB.
The investigation uncovered an alleged doping program that ensnared 28 sports, both summer and winter, and ran from 2011 to 2015. It found 312 positive tests that Russia's deputy minister of sport directed lab workers not to report to WADA.
Mutko on Tuesday denied all wrongdoing and said he expected his subordinates to be cleared. But addressing the ban by the IOC of Russian sports administrators, he said he was ready to accept it because "we have always been guests at the Olympics," and that the important issue was that the Russian Olympic team go to the games.
The summer sports federations prefer that doping allegations are handled on an individual basis.
The Association of Summer Olympic International Federation asked WADA "to immediately provide all the detailed information to the 20 international federations concerned so that they may begin processing the individual cases under their own separate rules and regulations as soon as possible, and in line with the WADA Code and the Olympic Charter."
"It is important to focus on the need for individual justice in all these cases."
Rather than applying a total ban, federations could suspend individual Russian sports. That already was the case with the IAAF ban on Russia's track athletes from Rio following previous WADA-commissioned reports into Russian doping.
The summer association's position falls in line with recent comments by Bach, who cited the need for balancing "individual justice and collective punishment." He said last week that, if summer sports were implicated in the McLaren report, the federations would have to decide on the eligibility of Russians "on an individual basis."
McLaren's report also confirmed details of state-supported doping that subverted the testing at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. That included allegations by Moscow's former lab director, Grigory Rodchenkov, that dirty urine samples of Russian athletes — including medalists — were swapped out for clean ones in covert middle-of-the-night operations at the Sochi lab.
WADA and its president, Craig Reedie, urged the IOC to consider a total ban on Russia. Reedie, who is also an IOC vice president, presented details of the McLaren report to the executive board Tuesday and answered questions about it, before Bach asked him to recuse himself from the meeting because of a "conflict of interest."
While putting off a decision on banning Russia, the executive board announced a series of measures to punish Russian athletes and officials implicated in doping.
Among the sanctions, the IOC:
— said it will not organize "or give patronage" to any sports event or meetings in Russia, including plans to hold the European Games in the country in 2019.
— will launch retesting, including forensic analysis, of doping samples from the Sochi Games. It set up a commission to carry out a "full inquiry" into all of the Russian athletes who competed in Sochi, along with their coaches, officials and support staff.
— asked WADA to extend McLaren's mandate to disclose the names of Russian athletes whose positive doping samples were covered up, and whose samples were manipulated in Sochi.
— called on all international winter sports federations to "freeze" their plans for holding major events in Russia, including world championships and World Cups, and seek alternative venues in other countries.
The IOC said the "provisional measures" would apply until Dec. 31, and be reviewed by the IOC that month.