Feb. 1 (UPI) -- The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned doping bans on 28 Russian athletes on Thursday, striking down the International Olympic Committee's sanctions just over a week before the start of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The Swiss-based court said there was insufficient evidence to show that certain Russian athletes had broken anti-doping rules.
In December, the International Olympic Committee banned the entire Russian Olympic team -- preventing them from competing under their national flag, instead requiring them compete neutrally as "Olympic Athletes from Russia."
Thursday's ruling means Russian athletes banned from participating in the Pyeongchang Games can now seek to participate.
"Both CAS panels unanimously found that the evidence put forward by the IOC in relation to this matter did not have the same weight in each individual case," the court said in a statement.
"In 28 cases, the evidence collected was found to be insufficient to establish that an anti-doping rule violation was committed by the athletes concerned. With respect to these 28 athletes, the appeals are upheld, the sanctions annulled and their individual results achieved in Sochi 2014 are reinstated."
The ruling reinstates the results for those athletes -- including 2014 Russian medalists Alexander Tretiakov and Elena Nikitina in skeleton; Alexander Legkov and Maksim Vylegzhanin in cross-country skiing; Albert Demchenko and Tatyana Ivanova in luge and Olga Fatkulina in speedskating.
The court found that 11 other athletes would remain banned from the Games in Pyeongchang instead of a lifetime ban.
"The mandate of the CAS Panels was not to determine generally whether there was an organized scheme allowing the manipulation of doping control samples in the Sochi laboratory but was strictly limited to dealing with 39 individual cases and to assess the evidence applicable to each athlete on an individual basis," the ruling states.
Russian President Vladimir Putin urged respect for the organizations involved in the investigation, TASS reported.
"It is necessary to treat with respect not only the court's ruling, which evokes nothing but joy, proving our position that an overwhelming majority of our athletes are clean. But it is also necessary to treat with respect the opponent in the dispute. That is why, I believe that there should be no euphoria on our part and we need to treat this with calm," he said.
"We are glad for those athletes who were supported by the sports arbitration panel but not all 100 percent of them were exonerated," Putin said. "There is still something we ourselves need to work on and this is absolutely clear from the viewpoint of improving our anti-doping program and policy. We will do this insistently with WADA [the World Anti-Doping Agency], together with the IOC and other international organizations."
It was not immediately known if the cleared athletes would seek to take part in this month's Winter Olympics. To be able to compete, they still need to be cleared by the IOC's Invitation Review Panel and approved to join the delegation of 169 Russian athletes who will compete as neutrals.
"This may have a serious impact on the future fight against doping," the IOC said in a statement Thursday. "Therefore, the IOC will analyse the reasoned decisions very carefully once they are available and consider consequences, including an appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal."
"With regard to the participation of athletes from Russia at the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018, the decision of the IOC Executive Board [from December] remains in place," the Olympic governing body continued. "It makes it clear that, since the Russian Olympic Committee is suspended, Russian athletes can participate in Pyeongchang only on invitation by the IOC."