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Can Russian athletics recover from its Olympics ban?

Justina Crabtree; special to
Russian Olympic team awaits IOC ruling

The ban on Russia's track and field athletes from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was upheld Thursday following accusations that the country ran a widespread, government-aided doping program.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that a previous ban instated in June by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would be upheld.

But Russia's sportsmen and women are still awaiting what could be the most damning blow of all, as an IOC ruling expected Sunday will determine whether or not the entire national team will be excluded from the Rio games.

Any absence from the global showcase of sporting prowess would be a massive setback for any country's athlete, but what could the cost be for Russia? CNBC takes a look.

Gold medalist Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia poses on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women's Pole Vault during day six of the 14th IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 on August 15, 2013.
Julian Finney | Getty Images

Sporting champions set to lose out

One of the highest profile Russian stars to have lost her place at this year's Olympics is pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, two-time Olympic gold medallist and current world record holder in the event.

Isinbayeva is widely considered to be the greatest female pole-vaulter of all time. She has slammed the IOC's Russian track and field ban, not least because at 34, Rio was likely to be her last Olympic Games. Isinbayeva was one of the 68 Russian athletes to appeal the IOC's ruling at CAS, insisting that she is clean. Isinbayeva commented to Russian state news agency Tass that CAS' ruling was "the funeral of athletics," and a "pure political decision."

An up-and-coming face who was expected to triumph at Rio 2016 is Sergey Shubenkov, who won gold for the 110 meter hurdles at the 2015 World Championship in Beijing. The ban hits him at the peak of his sporting career -- one that has not been associated with doping. According to the media platform Russia Beyond the Headlines, "Even in domestic competitions this season, Shubenkov has been showing a better time than the season's world leader, Cuba's Orlando Ortega."

However, some Russian athletes may compete under the neutral IOC flag if they meet certain requirements, such as being tested repeatedly overseas. 800 meter runner Yuliya Stepanova, also known for calling out Russia's drug cheating, and U.S.-based long jumper Darya Klishina are to do so.

Sergey Shubenkov of Russia celebrates after crossing the finish line to win gold in the Men's 110 Meter Hurdles final during the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 on August 28, 2015 in Beijing, China.
VCG | Getty Images

Sponsorship impact

Russian athletics stars could lose out financially as a result of the IOC ban. Not competing at the Rio games could mean docked earnings from sponsors, or worse, being dropped from these endorsements altogether. Alun James, a sports sponsorship expert and managing director of consultancy firm Four Communications breaks down the small print of the athletes' contracts, saying, "Some may have clauses that reduce their cash flow as a result of not competing in the Olympics, and make them less likely to be used in promotional material. Athletes may also lose out on performance bonuses for not winning medals."

Russian sport is heavily state funded, and this will be unaffected by the doping scandal. Professor David Carter, a specialist in sports business at the University of Southern California outlines the future for commercial endorsements of the national team, saying, "Certain sponsors, such as sports brands, rely massively on credibility and sportsmanship. But, sponsors such as automotive and financial companies are less concerned."

Adidas and Nestle renounced their deals with the International Association of Athletics Federations earlier this year as a result of persistent doping and corruption scandals.

Darya Klishina of Russia competes in the Women's Long Jump final during day seven of the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 on August 28, 2015.
Patrick Smith | Getty Images

Emotional blow

Perhaps the deepest cuts felt will be to the Russian athletes' loss of prestige. Not competing at Rio 2016 is, according to Carter, a "massive loss" that could cause careers to end prematurely, particularly for competitors in more physically demanding disciplines who may have fewer chances to compete at Olympic events during their careers. James adds that, "Russian athletes will have a lower profile, not entering the international public imagination as an Olympic champion."

But, the ban looks set to have little impact on younger generations of Russian athletes. Coaches have said that their younger stars will simply train harder as a result of the ruling. James explains that, "The doping scandal has been a big blow for Russia. But, considering the extent to which the state links sport to nationalism, it will not deter young athletes."

The IOC's decision to ban Russian athletes from Rio 2016 has been a headache for non-Russian athletes too.

"Many athletes would like to see Russia smacked down," Carter explains. "But they also want to win against truly global competition – and this includes Russia – so as not to devalue their gold medals."

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