In a major change in the handling of positive drug tests at the Olympics, the IOC agreed Tuesday to remove itself from the process and have a group of independent sports arbitrators rule on doping cases during the games in Rio de Janeiro.
The change, approved by the International Olympic Committee's executive board, is designed to make the prosecution of doping cases more independent by taking it away from the IOC and putting it in the hands of a special panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
"Athletes should be pleased," CAS President John Coates said. "Suddenly they will appear before a hearing where the prosecutor and the judge are different people."
Until now, doping cases during the Olympics have been dealt with by a special IOC disciplinary panel appointed by the IOC president. The panel scheduled hearings with athletes who tested positive and decided on sanctions. Most athletes who test positive during the Olympics are disqualified, expelled from the games and stripped of any medals.
Under the new system, positive cases will go directly to a new CAS doping division on site. From a pool of five to six arbitrators, CAS will select a panel of one to three members to hear the cases and issue rulings without IOC involvement.
"This is taking the IOC out of results management and out of hearings," Coates said. "Athletes will now have an independent body determining her or her fate."
CAS will also provide pro-bono lawyers to defend athletes if needed, he said.
Any appeal against the panel's decision during the games will be heard by a separate CAS division, which already handles eligibility and other disputes at the Olympics. Coates said the two panels would be completely separate, with no members serving on both.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the new CAS division would also decide on subsequent retesting of samples, which was also previously handled by the IOC. Samples are stored for 10 years to allow for retesting with improved techniques.
CAS is a Swiss-based body created by the IOC that is considered the highest court in dealing with sports disputes.
The change is part of IOC President Thomas Bach's efforts to make drug-testing and sanctioning more credible by removing any potential conflicts of interest.
Bach has also recommended that, in the future, all doping sanctions be handed down by CAS, rather than by individual sports bodies.
Olympic leaders agreed last year that drug-testing in general — not just at the games — should be taken out of the hands of sports bodies. Bach has proposed that an independent testing agency under WADA control be put into place before the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. WADA is still studying the proposal and how to fund it.
Russia, Kenya hope to avoid Rio bans
Also Tuesday, World Anti-Doping Agency president Craig Reedie reported to the IOC board on efforts by Russia and Kenya to comply with global rules at a time when track and field athletes from both countries risk missing the Olympics in August.
The IAAF suspended Russia from global competition in November following a WADA commission report that detailed a vast system of state-sponsored doping and cover-ups. WADA declared Russia's anti-doping agency non-compliant.
"The ball is in Russia's court," Reedie said. "They are aware of the agreements we have on progress that needs to be made. They are very well aware of IAAF criteria for track and field athletes. Work literally goes on every day."
Asked whether he was confident that Russian athletes would be reinstated in time for Rio, Reedie said: "I am certainly going to try."
Kenya, meanwhile, has until April 5 to meet WADA requirements or face being declared non-compliant, a step toward a possible ban from the Olympics for its track and field athletes. WADA is demanding that Kenya create and fund a fully-fledged national anti-doping agency.
"They are very well aware of what they need to do," Reedie said. "They simply need to do it. If they don't do it, my compliance review committee will take the matter further."
Reedie reiterated that Brazil's anti-doping agency has until March 18 to meet WADA guidelines. If it fails, the Rio drug-testing lab would be declared non-compliant, meaning thousands of doping samples during the games would have to be sent out of Brazil for testing, raising major logistical and financial challenges.
"It is up to them to do it," Reedie said. "It would make life a lot easier if they did."