Russian sports minister to meet WADA chief in bid to break doping deadlock

Russian sports minister to meet WADA chief in bid to break doping deadlock
Craig Reedie, world anti-doping agency (WADA) President, delivers his speech during the opening day of the 2018 WADA annual symposium, at the Swiss Tech Convention Center, in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Wednesday March 21, 2018. Photo credit: Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP

Russian sports minister Pavel Kolobkov will meet World Anti-Doping Agency president Sir Craig Reedie in Lausanne on Thursday to break the deadlock surrounding Russia's full return to the global sports community.

Top of the agenda will be Russia's refusal, so far, to acknowledge that its doping programme was directed from the sports ministry.

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) and Russian Paralympic Committee all remain suspended by their respective international bodies after the disclosure of a conspiracy to dope hundreds of athletes, across almost all sports.

That plot has been corroborated by investigations led by Canadian legal expert Richard McLaren on behalf of WADA and ex-Swiss president Samuel Schmid for the International Olympic Committee.

WADA, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and International Paralympic Committee have set strict criteria for Russia's reinstatement and the majority of those have been met.

As well as Reedie, Kolobkov is set to meet the head of the IAAF taskforce for Russian reinstatement Rune Andersen in Lausanne today, with athletics' international federation also maintaining a hard line on lifting its sanctions against Russia.

At WADA's annual symposium on Wednesday, Reedie and other senior agency figures said RUSADA's ban would not be lifted until the Russians acknowledge McLaren's findings and allow international experts to access the Moscow laboratory that has been sealed while a Russian criminal investigation takes place.

Reedie revealed that Russia has ignored four offers to conduct a joint investigation of the hundreds of athletes' samples stored at the lab, while WADA's deputy director general Rob Koehler said there would be no compromise on the requirement for Russia to accept the McLaren report.

Press Association Sport, however, understands that other powerful voices within global sport are desperate to move on from the impasse which has seen Russian politicians repeatedly refuse to admit doping was state policy, or that the scale of Russia's cheating was particularly unusual.

A former Olympic fencing champion, Kolobkov recently told Russian news agency TASS that WADA and the other international bodies were holding Russia "hostage" by demanding acceptance of the McLaren report.

He pointed to the decision made by the Court of Arbitration for Sport before last month's Winter Olympics, which cleared 28 Russians so they could compete in Pyeongchang, as an indication of what happens when McLaren's findings are tested in court.

That decision was celebrated by the Russians, who have always said the country's doping problems were caused by individual athletes, rogue coaches and corrupt officials, but they were not facilitated by the state.

This view, the Russians believe, was supported by Schmid's report and his conclusion, not McLaren's, is one they would be willing to accept.

While McLaren talked about an "institutional conspiracy" that involved the sports ministry, as well as a "systemic and centralised cover-up", Schmid's report said it "could not find any documented, independent and impartial

evidence confirming the support or knowledge of this system by the highest state authority".

Even though Schmid largely backed McLaren's findings and it was the basis of the IOC's decision to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee for the duration of the Winter Games, the Russians are understood to prefer its softer language and greater focus on the role played by the ex-director of the Moscow lab, Grigory Rodchenkov. He is the main source for McLaren's report and is now living in hiding in the United States.

RUSADA's new director Yury Ganus told delegates at the WADA symposium that the issue of Russian acceptance of the doping programme was a question of "negotiation" for people higher up the chain than him.

With Vladimir Putin securing another six-year term as Russian president last weekend, it now seems those negotiations can resume.

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