GENEVA — In a career-defining legal victory ahead of the World Cup, Peru captain Paolo Guerrero was cleared Thursday to play at the tournament in Russia by a Swiss supreme court judge despite a doping ban.
Switzerland’s supreme court granted an interim order to freeze Guerrero’s 14-month ban for a positive test for cocaine metabolites at a World Cup qualifying game.
"As a result, Paolo Guerrero can take part in the next World Cup," the federal court said, noting the tournament could be "without any doubt the crowning glory of his career."
The judge, Christina Kiss, took into account that, at 34, Guerrero should not miss his first opportunity to play at the World Cup.
"This decision does justice, at least partially, and I’m grateful to the Swiss court," said Guerrero, who has not formally been cleared of doping and could yet serve the remainder of his ban.
Guerrero’s urgent request to the federal court was backed by Peru’s government and a wave of emotional support at home from fans believing he is key to the nation’s first World Cup appearance in 36 years.
"There are no limits," said Peru’s all-time leading scorer, who previously played for Bayern Munich. "There are no impossible dreams, as it has been proved that when Peruvians are united, everything is possible."
The court noted that FIFA, which first banned Guerrero, and the World Anti-Doping Agency, which appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for a longer ban, did not oppose him playing in Russia next month.
Kiss wrote in an eight-page judgment how Guerrero benefited from a "rare surge of solidarity" to support his case. That included a letter signed by captains of Peru’s three World Cup opponents — France, Denmark and Australia — urging he be allowed to play.
She also noted a possible negative effect on Guerrero’s teammates of being deprived of their "emblematic" captain.
The interim ruling puts the ban imposed by CAS on hold until full consideration of the case at a later date in federal court.
The verdict came four days ahead of FIFA’s Monday deadline for Peru to finalize its 23-man World Cup squad.
Guerrero tested positive for a metabolite of cocaine at a World Cup qualifier against Argentina in October. He argued at two FIFA hearings, and his appeal to CAS, that the stimulant did not offer chemical help to his performance and was accidentally consumed in tea.
The federal judge agreed with the CAS panel, which also accepted the player’s arguments of not being significantly at fault for the positive test.
However, the CAS judges increased the ban from six to 14 months, upholding a counter-appeal by WADA. The sports court decided a ban through January 2019 was an "appropriate sanction … in light of Mr. Guerrero’s degree of fault."
Guerrero’s original ban by FIFA expired in early May, in the same week that his appeal was heard at CAS. He then returned to play for Brazilian club Flamengo.
Earlier Thursday, CAS — which is based less than a kilometre (mile) from the federal court in Lausanne — issued a statement saying it would not object if Guerrero was cleared to play in Russia.
Guerrero had the right to a supreme court appeal because CAS is under the jurisdiction of Swiss civil law. Federal judges can intervene if they suspect abuse of legal process.
At the World Cup, Peru opens against Denmark on June 16 in Saransk.
Peru soccer federation president Edwin Oviedo said the ruling was "a nice way to unite the whole country with an announcement that makes all Peruvians happy."