Russia escaped a fresh suspension from international sport on Tuesday after the world anti-doping agency Wada forgave the country for missing an end-of-year deadline to turn over crucial lab data from its corrupted Moscow lab.
The move by senior Wada officials means the country’s national anti-doping body Rusada will remain in good standing since its reinstatement last year, after investigations found Russia orchestrated a state-backed doping scheme.
It comes at a time of mounting scepticism about the fairness of international sports events amid the pervasive use of illicit drugs, and withering criticism that Wada allowed itself to be trampled over clumsy attempts at enforcement.
Satisfied with Progress
Speaking to reporters immediately after the decision, the president of the global anti-doping regulator, Sir Craig Reedie, said he was satisfied with the progress made in resolving the long-standing problem of Russian doping.
Reedie said some members on the executive committee had voiced frustration with the missed deadline, but agreed there should be no further sanctions. He added Wada wanted to ensure that “those who cheated are held to account”.
Senior government officials in Moscow, who had warned another suspension would undo years of efforts at reform, welcomed the news. The Rusada deputy director Margarita Pakhnotskaya emailed i: “Yes, Rusada is pleased for now.”
Failed to Comply
As a condition of lifting penalties that had barred Russia from hosting global sports events and drug-test its own athletes last September, it had pledged to turn over sensitive data from its Moscow lab before the start of the new year.
The data would conclusively prove which athletes had been part of a massive, state-supported doping programme that corrupted dozens of major events including the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, where Russia topped the medal table.
But missing the deadline meant Russia had failed to comply with the criteria, which placed pressure on Wada to again suspend the country or re-impose sanctions many athletes believe should never have been lifted in the first place.
Turbulent Russian Saga
Experts from Wada have since been granted access to the Moscow lab after it was denied entry last month as their equipment had not been approved, but the process has shown Russia’s strength relative to the regulator’s weakness.
The recommendation from an influential Wada panel not to pursue further penalties has only served to reinforce the image of a regulator both lacking the stomach for a fight and unable to effectively combat doping in sport.
Tempers among Wada’s critics had cooled down ahead of the crunch meeting yesterday in Montreal, but focus has now shifted to how the embattled organisation will handle the turbulent Russian doping saga in the future.
Concerns of Tampering
The next step for Wada is to confirm the authenticity of the 20 terabytes of data from the corrupted lab by comparing results against a leaked copy of the data and backup servers, a process that could take between two to three months.
If the data is found to have been tampered with – a genuine possibility given Russia’s natural reluctance to incriminate scores of their own athletes – Wada officials could then look to ban the country from the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Should the data be verified and athletes suspected of violating anti-doping regulations be identified, it is understood that their cases will be handed over to the individual sports federations to pursue any sanctions.
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