Liam Morgan ©ITG

One of the most damning indictments of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) failing in its Russian data mission was that very few were surprised.

After all, Russian authorities have been playing games throughout this sordid ordeal and have largely got organisations such as WADA dancing to their tune.

Save for a “ban” on Russian athletes from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) being non-compliant for nearly three years - a punishment which means little to those outside of this insular Movement we inhabit - Russia has managed to escape the severe sanctions many thought the nation should be subjected to.

WADA will come under increasing pressure to ensure that is not the case this time around after the team which travelled to the Moscow Laboratory failed to return with the crucial raw data.

According to a WADA statement, the five-member panel was unable to do so within the prescribed time “due to an issue raised by the Russian authorities that the team’s equipment to be used for the data extraction was required to be certified under Russian law”.

Crucially, this problem was not mentioned during an initial technical meeting held late last month regarding how they obtained access to the data and samples stored at the facility.

It is just the latest example of Russian rule-bending and of the country attempting to get WADA to pander to their demands rather than the other way around.

“I was never in doubt that Russia would use such delaying tactics,” said British Paralympic powerlifting silver medallist Ali Jawad.

“Russia is obviously not serious about compliance.”

WADA will come under increasing pressure to ban Russia after the team which travelled to the Moscow Laboratory failed to return with the crucial raw data ©Getty Images
WADA will come under increasing pressure to ban Russia after the team which travelled to the Moscow Laboratory failed to return with the crucial raw data ©Getty Images

Russian authorities have had ample time to orchestrate a smooth and expedient handover and to address any issues which may have occurred given RUSADA was reinstated subject to “strict” criteria on September 20.

With the clock continuing to tick down to the December 31 deadline, which is now just seven days away, WADA is not that much closer to getting what it has demanded.

Given the amount of time it took to set a date for the first technical visit, the signs do not look good for WADA and its leadership, particularly President Sir Craig Reedie, who may be regretting providing a “100 per cent guarantee” that the organisation would get access to the vital data during a Foundation Board meeting in Baku in November.

At this stage, the situation is a huge embarrassment for Sir Craig and director general Olivier Niggli, who have both been at pains to insist the Russians would cooperate.

Sir Craig and Niggli have also consistently reminded us of the harsher sanctions available to WADA under new compliance standards which came into effect earlier this year.

The trouble for WADA is that, by negotiating with Russia the first time around to lift the suspension on the scandal-ravaged country, it has raised the possibility that a similar deal could be struck.

Sceptics and critics will point to say how they were willing to reach a compromise with Russia before so they could easily do so again. An extension to the deadline is surely not out of the question, even if that would trigger a more intense outcry than the indignation which greeted the decision to declare RUSADA compliant in September.

It nevertheless represents a major dilemma for WADA, who will be urged to reimpose the suspension on Russia if the deadline comes and goes without authorities in the country handing over the data.

Unsurprisingly, United States Anti-Doping Agency chief executive Travis Tygart was among the first to call for WADA to do exactly that.

“Surprise, surprise - is anyone shocked that the Russians are bobbing and weaving to escape accountability?" he told news agency Reuters.

“Let's hope WADA has learned its lesson this time and declares them non-compliant.”

Jim Walden, the lawyer for laboratory director turned whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, also chimed in with a statement of his own. “If RUSADA is now not banned, the last measure of WADA’s integrity will vanish,” he said.

In a peculiar way, there may even be some in the athlete community – especially from those who expressed their anger and resentment towards WADA for reinstating RUSADA – who are glad Russia has again failed to comply.

Those who spoke out against the controversial decision wanted Russia to remain banned and may yet get their wish if WADA follows through on its promises for sterner action against the nation should they fail to meet the deadline.

Sir Craig and Niggli, who some believe have been reticent to truly punish Russia throughout the doping scandal, will also find their own positions again being called into question if WADA opts for a different and more contentious course of action.

“It's utterly shameless from Russia, and it seems almost certain now that WADA will let them get away with it. So there will be shame after all,” said British fencer Laurence Halsted.

Of course, Russia does not see it this way. Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov claimed, rather brazenly, the WADA experts were “satisfied” with the trip to Moscow, even if they did not leave with what they had gone there for.

The truth is WADA is anything but satisfied with how it went in the Russian capital. Yes, simply setting foot in the sealed-off Moscow Laboratory is progress but it seems it will be too little, too late.

WADA President Sir Craig Reedie gave a 100 per cent guarantee that Russia would hand over the data and samples from the laboratory ©Getty Images
WADA President Sir Craig Reedie gave a 100 per cent guarantee that Russia would hand over the data and samples from the laboratory ©Getty Images

As outlined by RUSADA director general Yury Ganus – who appears, on the surface at least, to understand the severity of the situation – the consequences of another ban would be “devastating” for Russian sport.

Yet many will feel this is no less than Russia deserves as it is not the first time the country has refused to comply.

Russia may have wormed its way back to compliance in September after reaching a compromise with WADA.

But there can be no compromise for compliance now.