LONDON • The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) may face the gravest crisis in its 19-year history after it lifted Russia's suspension, despite pleas from the rest of the anti-doping community that such a decision would be unwise and premature.
The news was announced by Wada yesterday after a meeting of its executive committee in the Seychelles where a "great majority" voted for the reinstatement.
It means Russia will be free to test its own athletes and issue therapeutic use exemption certificates.
The decision makes it more likely that its track and field athletes will return to competing under the Russian flag. The country is likely to start bidding for sporting events again, too.
However, Wada's critics are furious it has secretly shifted the goalposts for the return of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada) - especially as Russia has still not accepted the accusation it was running a state-sponsored doping programme across major events including the 2012 London Olympics, the 2013 World Athletics Championships in Moscow and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
They are also angry that Wada president Craig Reedie and its director general Olivier Niggli offered a secret compromise to Russia sports minister Pavel Kolobkov - which was only revealed when letters were leaked to the BBC - to shift the goalposts to ease Rusada's return to major events.
Ever since Rusada was suspended in 2015, Wada has insisted that Russia had to fulfil two major conditions before its ban could be lifted:
•Accept the McLaren report, which found that more than 1,000 athletes across more than 30 sports were aided by state-sponsored doping.
•Allow access to the Moscow lab and the data contained therein so hundreds of outstanding Russian doping cases could be prosecuted.
Instead Russia has merely accepted that "failings" were made and agreed to allow an independent expert access to the Moscow lab at some point within the next six months.
In theory, that expert should be able to retrieve all the raw data from the lab, which should reveal which Russian athletes were on banned drugs. However, some fear that Russia will backtrack on its promises, or that the raw data may no longer exist.
But, in a statement following the vote, Reedie insisted that Russia would be declared non-compliant again if it didn't live up to its side of the bargain.
"This decision provides a clear timeline by which Wada must be given access to the former Moscow laboratory data and samples with a clear commitment by the exco that should this timeline not be met, the exco would support the compliance review committee's recommendation to reinstate non-compliance," said Reedie.
Wada's decision was greeted with dismay by Jim Walden, the lawyer for Dr Grigory Rodchenkov - the Russian doping whistle-blower - who called on the US government to stop funding Wada.
"Wada's decision to reinstate Russia represents the greatest treachery against clean athletes in Olympic history," said Walden.
"The United States is wasting its money by continuing to fund Wada, which is obviously impotent to address Russia's state-sponsored doping.
"The only way to stem the tide of Russian corruption is for Congress to pass the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, which will give the Department of Justice the necessary tools to put those engaged in doping fraud behind bars, where they belong."