By John Duerden The Associated Press
SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — The World Anti-Doping Agency dealt a blow Thursday to Russia’s hopes of competing at next year’s Winter Olympics by refusing to reinstate the country’s suspended anti-doping operation.
At its meeting in South Korea, WADA said two key requirements for reinstating RUSADA had still not been fulfilled: That Russia publicly accept results of an investigation by Canadian Richard McLaren concluding that Russia ran a state-sponsored doping program, and that the country allow access to urine samples collected during the time of the cheating.
Craig Reedie, the chairman of WADA and a member of the International Olympic Committee, acknowledged that improvements have been made but full compliance had not been achieved.
“Having set a road map for compliance, there are two issues that have to be fulfilled and we can’t walk away from the commitments,” Reedie said.
Reedie refused to be drawn on what the decision meant for the Russian team’s chances of participating in the coming Winter Olympics to be hosted in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang in February.
“We do not have the right to decide who takes part in international competition,” Reedie said. “I am quite certain that the IOC would prefer that RUSADA was compliant.”
The IOC said it is working to ensure Russian athletes undergo sufficient drug testing before the Olympics.
The IOC said its executive board, due to meet Dec. 5-7, “will take all the circumstances, including all the measures to ensure a level-playing field at the Olympic Winter Games 2018, into consideration when it decides on the participation of the Russian athletes.”
Thursday’s WADA ruling could mean Russia misses a second Paralympics after being excluded from Rio de Janeiro last year.
The International Paralympic Committee board is due to rule Dec. 19, spokesman Craig Spence told The Associated Press, adding that “clearly” RUSADA reinstatement remains a requirement for Russia to be admitted.
Russia has depicted the doping program that marred the 2014 Games in Sochi as the work of individuals, not the government. Alexander Zhukov, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee and also a member of the International Olympic Committee, told WADA members at Thursday’s meeting that “We absolutely deny the existence of a state-sponsored doping system.”
“It is clear that an unconditional recognition of the McLaren Report is impossible,” Zhukov said. “Such a requirement cannot, and should not serve as an obstacle to the full compliance of RUSADA.”
USADA chief executive Travis Tygart described the latest development as “another sad moment in this entire sordid affair.”
“There was really no other outcome, based on their unwillingness to admit what the flood of evidence proves,” Tygart said. “Now clean athletes are watching anxiously to see if the IOC similarly will take action to finally stand up for their rights or not.”
The IOC has ultimate say on Russia’s status at next year’s Olympics. WADA’s decision and Zhukov’s statements will play into decisions the IOC makes at meetings next month, where executive board members will discuss investigations into individual Russian doping cases from the Sochi Olympics, and into the allegations of state-sponsored manipulation of the anti-doping program.
Before last year’s Summer Olympics in Rio, the IOC refused to issue a blanket ban on the Russian team, instead allowing individual sports federations to determine eligibility of the athletes.
In the case of the Winter Games, the IOC has already vacated results of six Russian athletes from the Sochi Olympics and banned them from next year’s Pyeongchang Games, with several more cases still to be decided.
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to news of the IOC bans by claiming it is being manipulated by U.S. interests that want to use doping scandals to embarrass his government ahead of next year’s elections in Russia.
In discussing Thursday’s decision, WADA director general Olivier Niggli said RUSADA has made improvements but hasn’t hit the mark on the most important ones.
“The road map with these conditions were exchanged with the Russians over 25 times in the last 18 months,” Niggli.
RUSADA may not be fully reinstated, but it is already collecting samples from athletes after WADA partly restored its powers in June.
In Moscow, RUSADA head Yuri Ganus said his agency had reformed to WADA standards and was now “completely independent,” but that the key remaining demands were outside his authority.
Ganus wouldn’t say if he personally accepts McLaren’s findings or if the Russian government should do so, though he called the report “a very serious document.”