The World Anti-Doping Agency maintained its suspension of Russia on Thursday, raising the spectre of a possible ban from February’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
WADA’s Foundation Board, meeting in Seoul, came to the decision after its Compliance Review Committee recommended that Russia’s anti-doping body, RUSADA, “should not be reinstated”.
The decision had been expected after Russia refused to admit running a state-sponsored doping system, as detailed in an explosive report for WADA by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren.
The International Olympic Committee is expected to decide whether Russia can compete in Pyeongchang at an executive board meeting next month in Lausanne.
Russia was declared “non-compliant” by WADA in 2015 after the McLaren report alleged institutionalised doping culminating at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi — where the hosts topped the medals table.
Russia’s secret service and sports ministry were accused of orchestrating an elaborate plot that included using a “mousehole” to switch dirty samples at the doping laboratory in the Black Sea resort.
WADA has told Russia to “publicly accept” the report’s findings and allow access to urine samples at its Moscow anti-doping laboratory, among its key demands before returning to compliance.
Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov admitted that Russia’s anti-doping system had failed, but he said officials at RUSADA and their Moscow laboratory were to blame.
“We accept the fact our national anti-doping system has failed… (but) we absolutely deny a state-sponsored doping system,” Zhukov told the WADA meeting, echoing previous denials.
He added that an unconditional recognition of the McLaren report “is impossible”.
Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov pointed to improvements within RUSADA, and insisted it was independent of state control as he pleaded for the agency to be reinstated.
“RUSADA performs all functions within the World Anti-Doping Code,” he said. “I guarantee RUSADA will be fully independent, it is a totally new organisation.
“We are ready to go forward and work openly in the full standards of WADA. Please let us be compliant.”
Progress has been made, and WADA has already partially lifted its ban on RUSADA, giving it the right to collect samples. It also audited the body in September.
But suspicions remain. Foundation Board member Adam Pengilly asked how WADA could “trust” Russia’s new anti-doping regime “until there is a real acknowledgement of what happened?”
Last week, WADA also said it had obtained an “enormous” internal database of Russian drug test results from 2012-2015.