By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - The ban on Russia's anti-doping agency RUSADA was lifted by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on Thursday, subject to various conditions, in a decision greeted with dismay by campaigners.
Although the change will have no immediate effect on current bans on the Russian federations for athletics, weightlifting and paralympics, it opens the door for their return, following the reinstatement of the Russian Olympic Committee after the country was banned from this year's Winter Games in South Korea.
RUSADA was suspended in November, 2015 after an independent WADA report carried out by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren outlined evidence of massive state-backed, systematic doping and cover-ups in Russian sport.
WADA has repeatedly said since that RUSADA would not be reinstated until it satisfied key criteria on a "roadmap for return", including recognising the findings of the McLaren Report and allowing access to stored urine samples at RUSADA's Moscow laboratory.
At Thursday's WADA executive committee meeting in the Seychelles, members approved a lesser version of the first point - an acceptance of the IOC's Schmid Report, which endorsed the core findings of the McLaren Report - and set another "clear timeline" for the implementation of the second.
That means, after remaining banned for refusing access to the Moscow lab, RUSADA is now approved, but could be banned again if access continues to be denied.
"Today, the great majority of the (12-person) WADA Executive Committee (EXCO) decided to reinstate RUSADA as compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code, subject to strict conditions," WADA President Craig Reedie said in a statement https://www.wada-ama.org/en/media/news/2018-09/wada-executive-committee-decides-to-reinstate-rusada-subject-to-strict-conditions.
According to WADA, the chair of its compliance review committee said a letter received from the Russian Ministry of Sport last week amounted to an acceptance of all the findings of the Schmid Report.
RUSADA director general Yuri Ganus told Reuters that more work needed to be done to secure the reinstatement but said Thursday's decision was a positive sign for Russia's suspended track and field athletes, weightlifters and paralympians.
WADA Vice-President Linda Helleland, the most senior member of the agency's leadership to express opposition to reinstatement, said the decision cast a dark shadow over the credibility of the anti-doping movement.
"As an organization, WADA's number one job is to be true to our values of fair sport," Helleland said in a statement. "And today we made the wrong decision in protecting the integrity of sport and to maintain public trust in the anti-doping work.
"Today we failed the clean athletes of the world."
Although the International Olympic Committee (IOC) reinstated Russia in February, the International Association of Athletics Federations' (IAAF) suspension remains in place.
Some Russian athletes have competed as neutrals in international competition after proving their anti-doping credentials.
The IAAF set out its own criteria for the reinstatement of the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) and said the latest move by WADA fulfilled one of three pre-conditions.
According to the IAAF, Russian authorities must still acknowledge that Ministry of Sport officials were implicated in the scheme to cover up the doping of Russian athletes, as described in the McLaren and Schmid reports. They must also provide access to data from testing samples at the Moscow lab.
"The setting of our own criteria and the process of evaluating progress against these criteria has served the sport of athletics well over the last three years," IAAF President Sebastian Coe said in a statement.
"So we will continue to rely on the taskforce and our clear roadmap for RusAF reinstatement until we are satisfied that the conditions have been met."
WADA's decision came despite fierce opposition from athletes and other anti-doping bodies after WADA's review committee last week recommended that the Russian agency be reinstated.
"Today marked the biggest decision in WADA’s history, and it delivered a devastating blow to the world’s clean athletes," Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping agency, said in a statement.
"By ripping up the very ‘Roadmap’ it created, WADA’s decision to reinstate Russia despite the nation not having met the two remaining Roadmap conditions is bewildering and inexplicable."
Grigory Rodchenkov, the former RUSADA official whose evidence did much to expose the extent of the problem, said reinstatement under the current conditions would be "a catastrophe for Olympic sport ideals, the fight against doping and the protection of clean athletes".
Reedie acknowledged that WADA's decision would be criticised.
"When cheating is as rampant and as organized as it was in Russia ... it undermines so much of what sport stands for," he said.
"The pressure on WADA to ensure that Russian sport is genuinely clean now and in the future is one that we feel very keenly and we will maintain the highest levels of scrutiny on RUSADA’s operations and independence."
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Jon Boyle and Ed Osmond)