Liam Morgan

Throughout the protracted Russian doping scandal, the devil has very much been in the detail.

Headlines before the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang screamed "Russia banned", yet 168 athletes from the nation competed in uniforms which bore the country's name.

A similar theme could be found in the full Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) verdicts on those implicated in the state-sponsored scheme. You really had to dig in to find the reasons why some were cleared and others were not.

And so we turn to the impending decision from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Executive Committee on the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) at a meeting next month.

If you believe those who have lost all faith in WADA and its machinations, the result of that gathering of the 12-member body will be yet another "fudge" - a preferred tactic of sports administrators during this torrid, wretched affair.

"My advice to you would be to check the small print," I was told last week.

The implication is that the WADA Executive Committee will find a way, somehow, to reinstate Russia just shy of three years from the date where RUSADA was declared non-compliant, despite two outstanding criteria on WADA's roadmap.

A meeting of the WADA Executive Committee in the Seychelles next month will decide RUSADA's fate ©Getty Images
A meeting of the WADA Executive Committee in the Seychelles next month will decide RUSADA's fate ©Getty Images

By hook or by crook, RUSADA will be welcomed back as if the systematic manipulation of major sporting events including the Olympic Games and the obvious flaws in their general anti-doping activities never happened.

This has long been the fear of Government representatives, athletes and anti-doping groups; that Russia is simply too big and too powerful to remain in the wilderness and that organisations such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and WADA will do everything possible to ensure their pariah status does not last much longer.

IOC President Thomas Bach's comments after Pyeongchang 2018 - that a line needs to be drawn under the Russian scandal so the sporting world the country corrupted can move on - have been the driving force behind the scenes.

The sports movement officials within WADA made this perfectly clear at a fractious Foundation Board meeting in Montreal in May and the lobbying for their desired outcome is likely to continue before the Executive Committee gathers in the Seychelles on September 20.

Should they get their wish, it would send entirely the wrong message, particularly to athletes, whose trust in the anti-doping system has faded as quickly as the salt added to the clean urine of Russian athletes dissolved.

Some might even go as far as saying that Russian reinstatement would be the final nail in the reputation and credibility of anti-doping. Judging by the evidence, it is hard to disagree.

After all, why bother with a "roadmap" if you are going to change it to suit your political needs and because of external pressure?

At no point in the statement provided by WADA which detailed the requirements RUSADA need to meet in order to regain compliance did the organisation say it was subject to change.

At no point did WADA say these criteria could be altered because Russia refuses to play ball.

It is also worth pointing out that those sports movement representatives and IOC members were among those to unanimously approve the compliance roadmap.

WADA have faced pressure from the sports movement to reinstate Russia ©Getty Images
WADA have faced pressure from the sports movement to reinstate Russia ©Getty Images

From the outset, it has been patently obvious that Russia will never "publicly accept" the McLaren Report as the roadmap states, while the other outstanding criteria - access to the Moscow Laboratory - has also not been forthcoming. In fact, four requests for the Russian authorities to do just that were ignored earlier this year.

On the McLaren Report requirement, WADA President Sir Craig Reedie offered an insight into the direction his organisation is taking when he admitted they had suggested "very minor changes to the wording of any message admitting the conspiracy" to the Russian authorities.

We can debate the semantics of what constitutes public acceptance until we are blue in the face but RUSADA should not be reinstated until they, the Ministry of Sport and the Russian Olympic Committee do as they have been asked.

Yet it seems as soon as the doors to the Moscow Laboratory and the treasure trove of data that lies within are flung open, RUSADA will be declared compliant.

A decision in Russia's favour in the Seychelles will also tick off one of the criteria outlined by the International Association of Athletics Federations and the International Paralympic Committee, both of whom have stated RUSADA must be compliant before their respective bans on the country can be lifted.

WADA is also facing the possibility of reinstating RUSADA less than three months before an Austrian police report into the alleged cover-up of doping cases involving Russian biathletes and the former head of the sport's worldwide governing body, Anders Besseberg, is expected to be released.

The report is rumoured to be pretty explosive and we could have a scenario were Russia is granted a way back before more potentially damning allegations, similar to those uncovered in athletics by the first WADA Independent Commission, are revealed.

Should the accusations be as strong as some suggest, WADA may be forced into taking action against the very country they would have readmitted barely 12 weeks earlier.

After all, it won't be a German TV station or whistleblowers making these allegations - it will be criminal investigators, even if they are in a country considered closer to Russia than others.

Of course, these are hypotheticals, but few would decry them as far-fetched.

RUSADA has changed since the appointment of Yury Ganus, pictured, but they have failed to meet two of the roadmap criteria ©Getty Images
RUSADA has changed since the appointment of Yury Ganus, pictured, but they have failed to meet two of the roadmap criteria ©Getty Images

In WADA's defence, they seem to have tried to initiate dialogue with the Russian authorities in recent months and they have been met with silence. Sir Craig told Russian news agency TASS in August that he was "frustrated" by the lack of a response to the suggestions made by the global watchdog.

"The suggestions we made, particularly as far as the laboratory, I think, were very helpful," Sir Craig added. "It would make it easier, and I am really rather disappointed that I have not had any response from senior figures in Russia."

His disappointment would be nothing compared to the athlete and global anti-doping community's feelings should RUSADA regain its compliance next month.

The Seychelles may be a beautiful place but, for sport, the outcome of that meeting could be anything but.