Russia’s track and field athletes could soon be competing under their national flag once again after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) voted Thursday to lift its ban on the country.
In the face of fierce criticism from athletes and prominent officials, WADA voted to reinstate Russia’s anti-doping agency during an executive committee meeting in the Seychelles.
WADA confirmed the decision on Twitter, noting that “a great majority” of its executive committee decided to reinstate Russia “subject to strict conditions” that include a timeline for “access to the former Moscow laboratory data and samples.”
The governing body reserved the right to reinstate the ban should the timeline not be met.
The move had been anticipated after a recommendation by WADA’s compliance committee was released last week, prompting the resignation of one of its members, Canadian former Olympian ski champion Becky Scott.
Russia has consistently denied allegations of state-sponsored doping.
The anti-doping bodies of both the US and Great Britain released statements urging WADA to reconsider lifting the ban, alleging Russia remained non-compliant.
“Frankly, it stinks to high heaven,” US Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement prior to Thursday’s decision.
Eight-time Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses questioned the timing of WADA’s decision, and noted that its “roadmap to code compliance,” which stipulates that Russia recognize the findings and allow access to stored urine samples, had not been fulfilled.
“The decision will anger sports fans and clean athletes, whose trust in the global anti-doping authority is already wafer thin,” he wrote in the New York Times, adding “there has still not been a visit by WADA officials to the laboratory to access urine samples. With those facts, what sort of confidence will WADA’s volte-face instill?”
The UK Anti-Doping Athlete Commission affirmed the sentiment, saying readmitting Russia would be “a catastrophe for clean sport.”
“We play our sports by the rules,” the commission wrote in an open letter to WADA president Sir Craig Reedie, “and we expect the institutions that govern us, and which are there to protect us and our competition, to play by the rules too.”
In addition, Russian whistle-blower Grigory Rodchenkov — who provided most of the evidence that led to the ban, and now lives in hiding — said reinstatement “would be a catastrophe for Olympic sport ideals, the fight against doping and the protection of clean athletes.”
“WADA must not fall prey to manipulation and false assertions from the ministry, the same arm of the Kremlin that facilitated the doping program and asserted false compliance,” he added.
‘Opting for the easiest way out’
Russia’s suspension was implemented in 2015 after it was accused of state-sponsored doping up to and including the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
It led to the ban of more than 100 Russian athletes from the Rio 2016 Olympics, and a complete ban from the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang. However, more than 160 Russians — including the gold medal winning hockey team — competed neutrally as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”
Russia’s ban from the International Olympic Committee was lifted at the conclusion of the Winter Games in February.
Athlete 365, an official community for Olympians and elite athletes, said that it “agreed in principal” with WADA’s move, providing there was a “clear process and timeline” for access to the tainted lab data.
WADA’s ban also had no bearing on Russia’s ability to participate in and host the 2018 FIFA World Cup earlier this year.
In the lead-up to the vote, WADA vice president Linda Helleland said she would vote against reinstatement, noting that WADA’s compliance committee report “deviates considerably” from the conditions that had been laid out.
Norwegian Helleland is a candidate to replace Reedie when his term expires next year.
“This moment will forever define the credibility of WADA as the independent and strong front runner for clean sport,” she said in a statement.
“I am afraid that by opting for the easiest way out, it will ultimately hurt WADA in the future.”