July 03, 2015

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Pop violinist Vanessa-Mae exploited weak International Ski Federation rules and got help from Alpine race officials ''smitten'' by her celebrity to qualify for the Sochi Olympics, according to sport's highest court.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared the musician last month of rigging low-level races in Slovenia organized by her entourage in January 2014, and lifted her four-year ban on appeal.

In a detailed ruling published on Friday, the court said the 6,055 euros ($6,700) a local ski club was paid to organize four races days before the Olympic qualifying deadline was ''not unreasonable.''

The court did acknowledge that how the races were set up ''should probably have raised some red flags.''

One race in January 2014 was titled the ''Thai National Junior Championships'' even though 35-year-old Vanessa-Mae was the only racer from Thailand.

''It was obvious that the race exclusively served the purpose of allowing the Appellant to qualify for the Olympics at short notice,'' the three-lawyer judging panel wrote. ''However, and perhaps surprisingly, the regulations permitted this.

''If anything has to be blamed in the case at hand, it is rather the system put in place by FIS to organize competitions and not the Appellant for having `used' it for her own benefit.''

Though Vanessa-Mae's ban was lifted, the panel upheld a FIS decision to annul the qualifying races, making her ineligible for the Winter Games.

The Britain-based musician competed in Sochi for her father's native Thailand, under her family name Vanakorn. She finished last of 67 racers in the two-run giant slalom more than 50 seconds behind gold medalist Tina Maze of Slovenia.

Vanessa-Mae began earning FIS ranking points only three months before the Olympics, and needed a late surge to reach the qualifying standard.

The CAS panel said FIS fell short of proving that ''every conceivable step was taken to twist and turn'' the rules. If the qualifying races were rigged, it was not clear Vanessa-Mae was involved in cheating, ''let alone the mastermind.''

One higher-ranked retired skier who was paid to return and compete against Vanessa-Mae, lifting the ranking value of the race, was not called as a witness by FIS, the court noted.

Other witnesses gave different versions of claims that Vanessa-Mae was allowed by race organizers to start her run several seconds before official timing began.

Vanessa-Mae ''is a world famous musician,'' the court ruling said. ''The officials and all participants perhaps allowed themselves to be `smitten' by this.''

Now eligible again to try to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Vanessa-Mae told the court hearing in March that she plans to continue racing in FIS-sanctioned events.

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