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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Russia could yet miss Winter Olympics after Wada refuses to lift doping ban

World Anti-Doping Agency's board, meeting in Seoul, decides Russia 'should not be reinstated' on recommendation from its review committee

Alexander Legkov, centre, became the first athlete stripped of an Olympic medal from the 2014 Sochi games. Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP
Alexander Legkov, centre, became the first athlete stripped of an Olympic medal from the 2014 Sochi games. Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP

The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) maintained its suspension of Russia on Thursday, raising the spectre of a possible ban from February's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Wada's Foundation Board, meeting in Seoul, came to the decision after the agency's Compliance Review Committee recommended that Russia's anti-doping body, RUSADA, "should not be reinstated".

The decision had been expected after Russia refused to admit running a state-sponsored doping system, as detailed in an explosive report for Wada by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren.

The International Olympic Committee is expected to decide whether Russia can compete in Pyeongchang at an executive board meeting next month in Lausanne, where it will hear the results of two investigations into Russian doping.

Russia was declared "non-compliant" by Wada after the McLaren report alleged institutionalised doping from 2011 to 2015, culminating at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi - where the hosts topped the medals table.

Russia's secret service and sports ministry were accused of orchestrating an elaborate plot that included using a "mousehole" to switch dirty samples at the doping laboratory in the Black Sea resort.

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Wada has told Russia to "publicly accept" the report's findings and allow access to urine samples at its Moscow anti-doping laboratory, among its key demands before returning to compliance.

Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov conceded that Russia's anti-doping system had failed, but he said officials at RUSADA and their Moscow laboratory were to blame.

"We accept the fact our national anti-doping system has failed... [but] we absolutely deny a state-sponsored doping system," Zhukov told the Wada meeting, echoing previous denials.

He added that an unconditional recognition of the McLaren report "is impossible".

Russia's sports minister Pavel Kolobkov pointed to improvements within RUSADA, and insisted it was independent of state control as he pleaded for the agency to be reinstated.

"RUSADA performs all functions within the World Anti-Doping Code," he said. "I guarantee RUSADA will be fully independent, it is a totally new organisation.

"We are ready to go forward and work openly in the full standards of Wada. Please let us be compliant."

Progress has been made, and WADA has already partially lifted its ban on RUSADA, giving it the right to collect samples. It also audited the body in September.

But suspicions remain. Foundation Board member Adam Pengilly asked how Wada could "trust" Russia's new anti-doping regime "until there is a real acknowledgement of what happened?"

Last week, Wada also said it had obtained an "enormous" internal database of Russian drug test results from 2012-2015.

Despite Wada's refusal to readmit Russia, it may not be fatal to the country's chances of competing in Pyeongchang.

In 2016, the IOC ignored Wada's calls to ban Russia from the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro over the McLaren report, instead leaving the decision to individual sports bodies.