Liam Morgan

You do not need to look particularly hard to find comments from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) leadership which express how crucial sticking to the original roadmap on Russian reinstatement is for the future credibility and integrity of the organisation.

Here's one from WADA President Sir Craig Reedie. "There was clear consensus by the [Foundation] Board that the two outstanding Roadmap criteria were critical to global confidence and to operating in a credible environment," he said after the criteria was unanimously approved in November 2017.

Here's another from director general Olivier Niggli. "What matters to me is that we follow the process, we've outlined the roadmap and we follow that," he said following an Executive Committee meeting in Montreal in May still spoken about in far from glowing terms.

Fast forward a few months and these supposedly firm stances have been replaced by negotiations, concessions and compromises.

While there are elements to this sorry saga which can be disputed, the fact that WADA has softened the two remaining conditions on the Russian Anti-Doping Agency's (RUSADA) compliance roadmap – therefore making it easier for them to be welcomed back into the fold - is not one of them.

It is now there for all to see, thanks largely to an unidentified official leaking confidential correspondence between WADA and Russian officials since their non-compliance was maintained in the Canadian city in May.

What these documents proved beyond any reasonable doubt, to coin a legal term, is that WADA significantly backed down on its original demands.

The criteria which WADA wanted and the two the Compliance Review Committee (CRC) eventually deemed sufficient - after several weeks of toing and froing with Russia - differ considerably.

The letter from Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov, dated last week, set the chain of events into motion ©WADA
The letter from Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov, dated last week, set the chain of events into motion ©WADA

The initial demand was that Russia "publicly accept the outcomes of the McLaren Report". Instead, the CRC accepted a single, solitary line in a letter from the country’s Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov, which stated they had "fully accepted the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board that was made based on the findings of the Schmid Report".

The Schmid Report largely substantiates the McLaren Report as it outlines the involvement of Russian Ministry officials in the state-sponsored doping scheme but its language is not as strong as the document from the Canadian lawyer.

We are seemingly back to a row over semantics here as "based on the findings" of the Schmid Report to me is nowhere near any sort of public acceptance. It seems the Russians are saying they accept the IOC banning athletes from the nation in all-but name at this year's Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang - and nothing more.

According to a letter from Sir Craig and Niggli, dated on June 22 - the day the whole period of negotiation with Russia over RUSADA's compliance began - the two officials state this is a "very modest change in wording". Make of that what you will.

The concessions made here are, unfortunately, not surprising. After all, Russia has consistently insisted it will never give any acceptance or credence to the report from the Canadian lawyer; in the end, they haven't had to.

Put simply, Russia has barely had to show any remorse for their actions, with attempts to undermine the McLaren Report much more frequent than admissions of guilt.

While the acceptance of the report is important - athletes who have been wronged by Russians and those who believe in "clean sport" want to hear them say it - the more critical element is now gaining access to the Moscow Laboratory and the treasure-trove of data located at the facility.

Here, the CRC has deemed a "commitment" - which Sir Craig has insisted is iron-clad, although forgive me for being sceptical - from Russia to provide data and access to the samples stored at the laboratory enough to meet the second criteria.

In the original roadmap, the wording is pretty clear. "The Russian Government must provide access for appropriate entities to the stored urine samples in the Moscow Laboratory," the document states.

The "reasonable people" mentioned by the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations in their statement which highlighted the umbrella group’s “dismay” at the compromise reached between WADA and Russia would be right in suggesting an insistence that something will be done is not the same as something actually being done.

Sir Craig Reedie and Olivier Niggli have both previously stressed the need for the roadmap to be adhered to ©Getty Images
Sir Craig Reedie and Olivier Niggli have both previously stressed the need for the roadmap to be adhered to ©Getty Images

In one of the letters published by WADA, CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor admits this does not quite adhere to the criteria.

"As it stands the commitment falls short of what was required, because it is not unconditional (provision of access is made subject to the consent and cooperation of the Russian Investigative Committee) and it does not include a set date in 2018 as the deadline for provision of access," the British lawyer writes.

Defining an exact timeline for Russia giving WADA access to the data and then re-analysing it to determine the possibility of further sanctions against Russian athletes involved in the scheme will be one of the main outcomes of the Executive Committee meeting in the Seychelles on Thursday (September 20), where, as some claim, perhaps the most crucial decision WADA has ever faced will be made.

Realistically, though, we already know the outcome. The Executive Committee will almost certainly agree with the CRC recommendation, ending RUSADA's near three-year period in anti-doping exile. Any other result would be, quite frankly, astounding.

Ignoring the fact that outcomes of a meeting should not be predetermined before they happen, it is what occurs next which is the pertinent point now.

But it is the events of the past few months which continue to rankle, with a host of athletes, athlete groups and officials going public with their condemnation of the verdict on RUSADA's reinstatement and how the CRC reached their decision.

A letter from the UK Anti-Doping Agency Athlete Commission, signed by a host of the country's top names, set this in motion last week, cultminating in seven of WADA's own Athlete Commission speaking out today.

"It should not be possible to commit the biggest doping scandal of the 21st century and then be reinstated without completing the conditions that have been set," the statement from the WADA group read.

"Any compromise on the roadmap will be a devastating blow to clean athletes and clean sport."

WADA vice-president Linda Helleland, a candidate to take over from Sir Craig in the top job next year, has also weighed in on the row, declaring what many of us knew anyway - that she will vote against Russian reinstatement - and adding that the compromise underlines the credibility of the global watchdog.

"I am afraid that by opting for the easiest way out, it will ultimately hurt WADA in the future," the Norwegian adds in what provided a rare example of any official outwardly revealing which way they will vote in a closed meeting.

While it is true that something had to give, the way the verdict has been reached is worthy of intense scrutiny and criticism.

Sir Craig and WADA might claim the process has been "entirely in line" with the roadmap but where in the document – freely available on WADA's website - does it say that these conditions are subject to change?

Where does it say that, if Russia refuses to do this, we will cave in and accept much less than we demanded?

In some ways, WADA do deserve leniency. They were widely praised when they revealed the roadmap as it contained a series of strict conditions, yet it is for that reason that they find themselves in this situation; it turns out they were too severe to ever be realistic.

It is difficult for the sporting movement, including WADA, to dictate to a worldwide superpower how things should be done; after all, the state supersedes sport. Russia has not exactly been cooperative, either.

The criticism WADA faced in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the CRC recommendation was also unmerited in some respects as it neglected the fact that the original decision by the panel, published by the BBC last Thursday (September 13), was a month old.

Whoever was sending the letters to the press wanted to make it look as though the CRC recommended non-compliance one day and reinstatement the next, which is not the case.

Two-time world skeleton champion Katie Uhlaender is among the athletes to have spoken out regarding RUSADA's reinstatement ©Getty Images
Two-time world skeleton champion Katie Uhlaender is among the athletes to have spoken out regarding RUSADA's reinstatement ©Getty Images

If this person's aim was to discredit WADA and to spark widespread outcry, then mission accomplished, but it neglects how the actual process - however wrong many deem it to be - was carried out.

In the end, the leaks led to WADA publishing the information anyway, which has ironically only intensified the denunciation of their actions.

"Interested stakeholders around the world want the same thing: an effective and sustainable anti-doping system in Russia that sees clean Russian athletes resuming their place in international sport while ensuring the protection of athletes inside and outside of the country," WADA said in a statement accompanying the release of the letters.

"That outcome was never going to be achieved without small degrees of movement on both sides."

Yet is seems Russia has not moved anywhere near as much as WADA; the country has played hard ball and, unlike the athletes who remain the most important part of sport and the Olympic Games, got what they wanted in the end.