By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - The World Anti-Doping Agency said on Friday an inspection team will be given access to a Moscow laboratory and data it has long demanded thereby removing the final obstacle to the Russian Anti-Doping Agency's (RUSADA) full reinstatement.
A five-person WADA delegation will travel to Moscow and be allowed to enter the laboratory and have access to samples and other raw data that threatened to derail RUSADA's conditional reinstatement if not handed over by the end of the year.
Access to the lab and data within that timeframe was a condition of WADA's September decision to reinstate RUSADA.
The Russian authorities must also ensure that any re-analysis of samples required by WADA following the review of the laboratory data is completed no later than June 30 2019.
“Gaining full access to the laboratory and the data contained within it was the reason behind the 20 September decision (to reinstate RUSADA) and it is satisfying that we are another step closer to realizing that," WADA Director General Olivier Niggli said in a statement on Friday.
"The raw data is the missing piece of the puzzle that will complement the duplicate LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) database that is already in WADA’s possession and help conclude WADA’s McLaren and Operation LIMS investigations.”
The WADA team led by independent expert Jose Antonio Pascual, a Spanish research scientist and academic with 30 years’ experience in anti-doping, is expected to require three days to complete the data extraction.
That information will be used in conjunction with the re-analysis of samples to build cases against athletes who cheated.
The decision to open up the Moscow lab could mark the end of the long-running doping scandal that began in 2015 and rocked the sporting world, preventing Russian athletes from competing in two Olympics and world championships.
RUSADA was suspended in 2015 after a WADA-commissioned report outlined evidence of massive state-backed, systematic doping in Russian athletics, allegations Moscow has denied.
WADA had set a Dec. 31 deadline for RUSADA to meet the condition or once again be found non-compliant and face even tougher sanctions laid out in the International Standard for Code Compliance by Signatories.
Russia was banned from this year's Pyeongchang Winter Games but some athletes were allowed to compete as an 'Olympic Athlete of Russia', as long as they satisfied strict conditions that showed they had a doping-free background.
A limited number of Russian athletes competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro under their own flag but only after they met strict criteria, including a clean doping past and sufficient testing at international events.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has, however, yet to reinstate the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF).
The IAAF this month voted to continue its doping-related ban of the RusAF, which has been in place since 2015, until there is full access to the doping data stored in Moscow and financial compensation for investigation and legal costs.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Mitch Phillips and Ken Ferris)