LAUSANNE, Switzerland/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Sport's highest tribunal rejected on Thursday Russia's appeal against a doping ban for its entire athletics team from the Rio Olympics starting in 15 days' time, drawing swift and angry condemnation from Moscow.
The decision by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) increases the possibility that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will now exclude Russia from all sports, not just track and field, in Rio de Janeiro.
That would mark the deepest crisis in the Olympic movement since the U.S. and Soviet boycotts of the 1980s, and would be a grave blow to a nation that prides itself on its status as a sporting superpower.
"CAS rejects the claims/appeal of the Russian Olympic Committee and 68 Russian athletes," CAS said in a statement that backed the right the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to suspend the Russian athletics federation.
Russia is one of the world's foremost sporting powers which won the third biggest overall medal haul at the last summer Olympics in 2012 -- though some of those results are now in question because of doping suspicions.
Double Olympic champion pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva called the decision "the funeral of athletics".
"Now let all these foreign pseudo-clean sportspeople sigh with relief and win their pseudo-gold medals in our absence," Isinbayeva wrote on Instagram. "They have always feared (our) strength."
The ban on Russia's track-and-field team going to Rio was imposed last November by the IAAF after an independent report uncovered rampant state-sponsored doping in Russian athletics. It was maintained in June after the IAAF Council ruled that not enough progress had been made in transforming Russia's anti-doping program.
Russia had argued it had taken steps to clean up the sport, and that the blanket ban was unfair to individual athletes with no record of doping.
Russian officials, and many ordinary people in the country, have interpreted the doping allegations as part of a conspiracy inspired by Western governments who fear Moscow's growing influence.
A spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry called the court decision "a crime against sport".
With its decision, the court was "absolutely violating the rights of clean athletes, creating a precedent of collective responsibility", Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said in comments televised on state channels.
The ball is now in the court of the IOC to decide whether Russia should be excluded from all sports at the Rio Games, starting on Aug. 5.
Pressure on the IOC to take such a step increased this week after another report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency revealed evidence of systematic state-sponsored doping by Russian competitors before and during the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi.The IOC's executive committee met to discuss the issue on Tuesday and though it condemned the activities and started disciplinary proceedings against many of those involved, it postponed any announcement on a possible blanket ban pending legal advice and the outcome of the CAS hearing.
The IOC is expected to reach a final decision on Sunday.
The IAAF said it was pleased that CAS had supported its stance.
"While we are thankful that our rules and our power to uphold our rules and the anti-doping code have been supported, this is not a day for triumphant statements," IAAF president Sebastian Coe said. "I didn’t come into this sport to stop athletes from competing. It is our federation’s instinctive desire to include, not exclude."
Sergei Litvinov, a hammer thrower who was chosen for the Russian Olympic team, said his father had failed to make the 1984 Games when the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles event because of Cold War tensions.
"The funniest thing is that right now I am on my way to Moscow to receive my Russian team sports kit. What a paradox,” Litvinov said.
(Additional reporting by Brian Homewood and Dmitry Solovyov and Alexander Winning in Moscow; writing by Mark Trevelyan; editing by Mitch Phillips and David Stamp)