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WADA Set to Bring Russia Back to World Sport

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Russia moved a step closer to leaving behind its status as a global sports pariah on Friday after an influential panel recommended that the country’s banned antidoping agency be reinstated.

The move, which could clear the way for Russia to again test its athletes, will probably be endorsed at a meeting of the World Anti-Doping Agency next week. That approval would pave the way for Russian athletes to return to competition, and for the country to again stage international sporting events.

The announcement by an independent panel convened by WADA surprised several prominent officials in the international antidoping community, as Russia’s sports ministry had refused for months to fulfill two requirements for reinstatement.

WADA’s Independent Compliance Review Committee announced Friday that it had reached an agreement with the sports ministry to overcome the final sticking points, including Russia’s acknowledgment of some form of government involvement in the scheme that corrupted scores of sporting events across several years, including Olympics and major championships.

Since those schemes came to light in 2015, Russia had been banned from this year’s Olympics in South Korea, though many of its athletes were approved to compete through a separate process.

The International Olympic Committee, to the frustration of many in the antidoping community, lifted the country’s suspension from the Olympic movement days after the end of the Games in South Korea . Other sports, including track and field and cycling, continued to keep Russian athletes out while the WADA ban remained in place.

WADA said it took the unusual step of publishing the independent committee’s recommendation “in this case given the level of interest surrounding the matter and the amount of speculation.”

The panel initially planned to issue a recommendation against reinstating Russia because its sports minister did not agree to acknowledge findings that the conspiracy had been backed by elements in the sports ministry. Also, the ministry continued to ignore a request for access to data and laboratory samples being kept in Moscow, the two remaining elements for Russia to fulfill in a road map that it agreed to in 2015.

On Thursday, the BBC reported that the panel had drafted a letter to WADA recommending against reinstatement.

The panel reversed course following a conference call on Thursday after receiving a new letter from Russia’s Ministry of Sport in which, according to the panel, the ministry “sufficiently acknowledged the issues identified in Russia.” The letter also commits Russia to “provide access to the data and samples in the Moscow laboratory to WADA via an independent expert,” according to the statement.

The 11th-hour change of heart by Russia comes amid growing international pressure and scrutiny from national antidoping agencies and athletes, who have been far more critical of Russia than many sporting bodies. Thomas Bach, the president of the I.O.C. traveled to Russia in July and discussed the issue with President Vladimir V. Putin.

Just this week, Britain’s antidoping body published a letter signed by a group of athletes warning WADA that it would be a “catastrophe for clean sport” if its board elected to readmit Russia with the two conditions outstanding.

“We play our sports by the rules, and we expect the institutions that govern us, and which are there to protect us and our competition, to play by the rules too,” they wrote.

Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said the apparent U-turn “stinks to high heaven.”

He urged WADA to release the panel’s full recommendation and any information Russia had provided to to show it was compliant.

“If they are compliant, then great, we now have all the data and samples at the Moscow laboratory and finally justice can be served in the hundreds of cases that have been derailed up to now,” he said in a statement. “If not, the fix has obviously been in since the start.”

The I.O.C. provides half of WADA’s funding; the remainder comes from governments around the world.

WADA will vote on whether to clear Russia at a meeting on Thursday in the Seychelles. If that happens, the vote would probably lead to the end of Russia’s exile from track and field, whose international governing body has insisted Russia remain banned until WADA clears it.

Even if WADA clears Russia, related investigations will continue. Th authorities in Austria plan to report the results of a bribery and corruption investigation that led to the fall of the leadership of biathlon’s governing body amid allegations of covering up failed doping tests by Russian athletes.

Separately, scores of federations are analyzing data that WADA investigators provided after a whistle-blower gave it to the antidoping agency. The data includes a database of more than 2,000 Russian samples.


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