LONDON - Declaring "this is not the end of the story," the IOC said Thursday it will fight to restore its Olympic doping rule for future games after a court overturned American gold medallist LaShawn Merritt's ban from competing in London next year.
"This is not a defeat," International Olympic Committee vice-president Thomas Bach told The Associated Press. "We will not give up."
The Court of Arbitration for Sport threw out the IOC rule that bars any athlete who has received a doping suspension of more than six months from competing in the next Summer or Winter Games.
The three-man CAS panel said the rule was "invalid and unenforceable" because it amounted to a second sanction and did not comply with the World Anti-Doping Agency code.
The verdict clears Merritt, the Olympic 400-metre champion in Beijing in 2008, to defend his title at the London Games. The decision also affects dozens of other athletes around the world — as many as 50 in track and field — who had been covered by the rule.
While the IOC said it accepts the verdict and will comply, Bach said the Olympic body will push to get the regulation included in the next version of the WADA code, which will be revised in 2013. If accepted by all parties in the WADA rules, it should withstand legal challenge.
"This is not the end of the story," Bach, a German lawyer who heads the IOC's juridical commission, said in a telephone interview. "We'll try to convince all the stakeholders in WADA to adopt the rule which supports our aim.
"We have taken a position on moral grounds and we will try to make this moral decision also apply on the legal side."
The CAS verdict could also lead to challenges of Britain's lifetime Olympic ban for doping offenders, but British Olympic officials vowed to keep it in place.
"I will do everything in my power to ensure the eligibility bylaw remains in place," British Olympic Association chairman Colin Moynihan said.
Merritt had been ineligible to compete in London under the IOC rule, even though he completed his doping ban earlier this year after testing positive for a banned substance found in a male-enhancement product.
"I am thrilled to have this uncertainty removed for the 2012 season," Merritt said in a statement. "I look forward to representing my country and defending my title in the 400 metres next summer in London at the Olympic Games, and will prepare with even more determination than ever before."
The IOC adopted the rule in 2008 as part of its zero-tolerance approach on doping. In light of Merritt's case, the U.S. Olympic Committee challenged the rule and was backed by several other national Olympic and anti-doping bodies.
"We completely support the IOC in their efforts to have stringent anti-doping sanctions," USOC CEO Scott Blackmun told the AP. "It's just that this case created uncertainty for our athletes. This was a mutual decision to get some clarity."
The IOC maintained it had the right to decide who can take part in its games. But the CAS panel said the rule amounted to a form of "double jeopardy" rather than an issue of eligibility.
"I am disappointed because we wanted to strengthen the fight against doping," Bach said. "We wanted to protect clean athletes and enhance the image of the Olympic teams."
It's the second recent defeat for the IOC in a CAS case. In June 2010, two Belarusian hammer throwers had their Olympic medals reinstated by CAS because their samples had been mishandled by the Beijing laboratory.
"We have won many more cases than we have lost," Bach said.
Merritt, who was also 400-metre world champion in 2009, received a 21-month suspension last year after testing positive. His penalty was reduced from the usual two-year suspension because he co-operated with authorities and was found to not have taken the drug to enhance athletic performance.
Merritt's ban expired in July and he returned to international competition, finishing second in the 400 at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, and helping the Americans win gold in the 4x400 relay.
Other athletes affected by Thursday's ruling, according to CAS, include Brazilian cyclist Flavia Oliveira, Hungarian wrestler Balazs Kiss, U.S. diver Harrison Jones and U.S. hammer thrower Thomas Freeman.
The International Association of Athletics Federations said the decision will impact an estimated 50 track and field athletes hoping to compete in London.
"It's good that we don't have athletes and coaches and fans and others wondering what is the status," IAAF vice-president Bob Hersh said. "We have that behind us and that is good for the sport."
Sports attorney Howard Jacobs, who represented the USOC in the CAS hearing, said the ruling "strengthens the anti-doping movement."
"If this had not been resolved now, my guess is there would have been 20 to 30 cases being decided next summer right before the Olympics," he told the AP. "It's great that everyone was able to come together and get a resolution far enough in advance."
Among those still banned from the Olympics for life under a British Olympic Association rule are sprinter Dwain Chambers and cyclist David Millar.
"I hope this (CAS) decision will pave the way for the development of global sports, and to creating a system that all athletes and sports fans can understand and believe in," Millar said in a statement.
The BOA pledged to stick by its "tough but fair" rule, adopted in 1992. Moynihan said WADA and 90 per cent of British athletes support the measure.
While the IOC rule offered no appeals process, the BOA bylaw gives athletes the chance to overturn the ban in cases determined to be minor or with significant mitigating circumstances.
"There is no room for those who knowingly cheat for a place over someone who is clean," Moynihan said.
AP Sports Writers Paul Logothetis in London, John Leicester in Paris, Pat Graham in Denver and Michael Casey in Doha, Qatar, contributed to this report.