MOSCOW • The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) says all the doping data from a Moscow laboratory has been "successfully retrieved" by its expert team - but admits that it cannot yet be sure if it is genuine.
Wada has been attempting to get its hands on the data since 2015, in order to build cases against thousands of Russian athletes who are suspected of being involved in state-sponsored doping.
Russia has accepted there was extensive doping in the country, but has continued to deny that any of it was state-sponsored.
It had refused to play ball until Wada's executive committee controversially decided to lift the suspension of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada) in September.
That decision angered many athletes and anti-doping agencies, and their frustration increased when Russia missed a Dec 31 deadline to let Wada have the data.
However, Wada's three-strong team of experts finally completed their Moscow mission on Thursday and the body's president Craig Reedie hailed the news as a "major breakthrough for clean sport".
He told reporters: "It shows we are continuing to make real progress that simply would not have happened without the Sept 20 ExCo decision.
"The long impasse around access to the former Moscow laboratory has been broken and that is significantly good news."
However, many in the anti-doping world remain sceptical of Russia, with rumours rife the original data may well have been wiped by the authorities.
Reedie admitted to that possibility, adding that Wada would now need to "authenticate and review the data to ensure it is complete and that it has not been compromised".
He said: "Given the amount of data, that will take some time to achieve, but our experts have the tools to be able to verify the data with a high degree of confidence.
"Once the data have been authenticated, we will be in a position to proceed to the third phase and support the various sports and other anti-doping organisations concerned to build strong cases against athletes who doped.
"And, as part of that, ensure certain samples that are still stored in the Moscow laboratory are reanalysed in an accredited laboratory no later than June 30, 2019."
Rusada could also yet be suspended again because the Russians missed the Dec 31 deadline. The case will be considered by Wada's executive committee on Tuesday.
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN