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SOFIA (Reuters) - Sport's highest court expects to announce a final decision on Bulgaria's appeal against an Olympics ban on its weightlifters for a string of doping offences by the end of January, it said on Monday.
Last month, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF)said the Balkan country's athletes would be absent from next year's Rio Olympics following a high number of doping cases.
The Bulgarian Weightlifting Federation (BWF), which appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last week, was also fined $500,000.
"The CAS is expected to issue its decision by the end of January 2016," the Swiss-based court said in a statement. "Until then, the qualifications for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will not become final."
Eight male lifters, including three European champions, and three female lifters, tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid stanozolol during a training camp in Tbilisi, Georgia in March.
Bulgaria found it tough to find suitable replacements for the banned lifters but still competed at the world championship in Houston last month and finished 21st in the team standings.
Bulgaria has already said it is optimistic the Olympics ban will be overturned in time for its lifters to compete at next year's Games.
"Bulgaria's chances of participating in the Olympics are very good because this punishment contradicts existing IWF regulations," the BWF's lawyer Boris Kolev said.
The Black Sea state will have three spots for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro if the ban is overturned.
Bulgarian weightlifting has suffered repeated embarrassment due to doping cases and the national organization was temporarily stripped of its license in 2009.
A year earlier the country withdrew its team for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing because of 11 failed doping checks.
Bulgaria's reputation was also tarnished at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney where the team were stripped of three gold medals and sent home in shame following positive drug tests.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; editing by Ken Ferris