The prospect of Russia being banned from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics moved a step closer as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) recommended the country's drug-testing authority be declared non-compliant, with charges racking up against Russia and the clock ticking ahead of next July's Games.
WADA said in Canada overnight Friday its Compliance Review Committee (CRC) recommended the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) be suspended again when the global watchdog meets in Paris on December 9.
If WADA chiefs adopt the recommendation, Russia faces severe sanctions including a possible ban from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Russia's anti-doping chief Yury Ganus described the ruling as fair and expected. “The compliance decision was contingent on two demands. These were met formally but not properly,” Ganus said.
The CRC issued its recommendation after asking Russia to explain “inconsistencies” in laboratory data handed over by Moscow to WADA investigators in January. Full disclosure of data from the Moscow laboratory was a key condition of Russia's controversial reinstatement by WADA in September 2018.
RUSADA had been suspended over revelations of a vast, state-backed doping regime which including a systematic conspiracy to switch tainted samples at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which was sharply critical of WADA's decision to lift its suspension and reinstate RUSADA, called for a lengthy ban following Friday's announcement.
“Anything less than a four-year sanction for this critical violation that includes aggravating circumstances following years of denial and deceit would be another injustice in a long line of many for clean athletes,” USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said in emailed comments to AFP .
Friday's development is the latest twist to a saga which exploded in 2015, when an independent WADA commission investigating allegations of Russian doping said it had found evidence of a vast state-supported conspiracy stretching back years.
- Resigned to ban -
A 2016 report by WADA investigator Richard McLaren said more than 1,000 Russian competitors across multiple sports had benefited from the scheme between 2011 and 2015.
In an interview with AFP last month, RUSADA's chief Ganus appeared resigned to Russia being handed an Olympic ban, accusing unidentified Moscow authorities of handing over falsified lab data to WADA.
“Russia's Olympic squad will be prevented from participating fully in the Olympic Games in Tokyo.... I think that this will also happen at the (Winter Olympic) Games in China,” Ganus had said.
On Saturday, Ganus said the suspension proposal did not reflect any shortcoming on the part of the agency. It was not due to “the quality of RUSADA's work,” he said, adding: “It's a purely technical decision... conditions were not met whose implementation was not up to us.”
He said he expected a range of other penalties too, including restrictions on holding international tournaments in Russia, exclusion of Russians from international sports federations and fines.
Ganus insisted RUSADA officials had not been responsible for falsifying the data, insisting his staff “had nothing to do with the database and its transfer.”
Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov later denied the data had been tampered with, stating “nothing was removed” before the cache of information was handed over.
Friday's announcement by WADA came as World Athletics (formerly IAAF), the governing body for track and field, abruptly halted Russia's reinstatement process into the sport.
The World Athletics decision was taken after the president of the Russian athletics federation (RUSAF), Dmitry Shlyakhtin, and other senior officials were suspended on Thursday for “serious breaches” of anti-doping rules. These charges included provision to an athlete of false explanations and forged documents to explain missed doping tests.
Shlyakhtin resigned on Saturday and Yulia Tarasenko was appointed as interim president of Russia's athletics body. Tarasenko, the RUSAF sports director and head of the athletics federation of St. Petersburg, immediately sought to reassure Russian athletes she would fight their corner.
“We're not in a very joyful mood, the situation is very difficult in the federation, but we think there is a chance to fight for the federation,” she said. “We represent athletes and they should not suffer,” the new acting president Tarasenko told journalists.
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