The World Anti-Doping Agency placed Russia's fate for the upcoming Winter Olympics on perilous ground, refusing to reinstate the country's suspended anti-doping operation while Russia remained insistent the government is not to blame.
At its meeting Thursday in South Korea, WADA handed Russia the equivalent of a failing grade, saying two key requirements for reinstating the Russian Anti-Doping Agency had not been fulfilled:
- Russia must publicly accept results of an investigation by Canada's Richard McLaren that concluded the country ran a state-sponsored doping program.
- Russia must allow access to urine samples collected during the time of the cheating.
"We can't walk away from the commitments," said Craig Reedie, the chairman of WADA and also a member of the International Olympic Committee, which will ultimately decide Russia's fate.
Reedie refused to be drawn in on what impact Thursday's decision might have on the IOC.
"We do not have the right to decide who takes part in international competition," he said. "I am quite certain that the IOC would prefer that RUSADA was compliant."
IOC has final say
The IOC said its executive board, due to meet Dec. 5-7, "will take all the circumstances , including all the measures to ensure a level playing field at the Olympic Winter Games 2018, into consideration when it decides on the participation of the Russian athletes."
Among those circumstances will be Russia's continued denial that a state-sponsored program existed.
Leaders in the country have depicted the doping program that marred the 2014 Games in Sochi as the work of individuals, not the government. Alexander Zhukov, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee and also a member of the IOC, doubled down on that Thursday, telling WADA members that "We absolutely deny the existence of a state-sponsored doping system."
"It is clear that an unconditional recognition of the McLaren Report is impossible," Zhukov said. "Such a requirement cannot, and should not serve as an obstacle to the full compliance of RUSADA."
Kremlin denies government support
The Kremlin also repeated the denial of any government backing for dopers.
"WADA's decision was unpleasant news. We disagree with this decision and consider it unfair," said Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin. "We intend to continue contacts with the international sports community and organizations to defend Russia's positions. We are preparing for the Olympics."
Meanwhile, the honorary president of the Russian Olympic Committee, Leonid Tyagachev, told Govorit Moskva radio that the key whistleblower on the Sochi scandal, former Moscow lab director Grigory Rodchenkov "simply needs to be shot for his untruths."
"If we are insulted undeservedly, then we don't [want] those kinds of Olympics and that kind of relationship," said Tyagachev, who no longer wields decision-making power in the Russian Olympic hierarchy. "We will not kneel."
USADA chief executive Travis Tygart described the latest development as "another sad moment in this entire sordid affair."
"There was really no other outcome, based on their unwillingness to admit what the flood of evidence proves," Tygart said. "Now clean athletes are watching anxiously to see if the IOC similarly will take action to finally stand up for their rights or not."
Conditions of reinstatement still not fulfilled
Before last year's Summer Olympics in Rio, WADA recommended a complete ban of the Russian team but the IOC refused to go along, instead allowing individual sports federations to determine eligibility of the athletes.
In the case of the Winter Games, the IOC has already vacated results of six Russian athletes from the Sochi Olympics and banned them from next year's Pyeongchang Games, with several more cases still to be decided.
In discussing Thursday's decision, WADA director general Olivier Niggli said the conditions of reinstatement have been exchanged with RUSADA "over 25 times in the last 18 months," and were still not completely fulfilled
Though it's not fully reinstated, RUSADA has made improvements that allow it to collect samples from athletes, though there have been reports that the agency isn't testing the most relevant athletes .
In Moscow, RUSADA head Yuri Ganus said his agency had reformed to WADA standards and was now "completely independent," but that the key remaining demands were outside his authority.
Ganus wouldn't say if he personally accepts McLaren's findings or if the Russian government should do so, though he called the report "a very serious document."
Thursday's WADA ruling could mean Russia misses a second Paralympics after being excluded from Rio de Janeiro last year.
The International Paralympic Committee board is to rule Dec. 19, spokesman Craig Spence told The Associated Press, adding that "clearly" RUSADA reinstatement remains a requirement for Russia to be admitted.