By Brian Homewood
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - A hurricane of change is blowing through the world anti-doping system in the wake of the Russian scandal to the benefit of clean athletes, the United States' top anti-doping official said on Wednesday.
Recent involvement by law-and-order forces, including a police raid on the Nordic skiing championship in Austria, was another cause of optimism, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief executive Travis Tygart told Reuters in an interview.
Tygart has been an outspoken critic of the decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency WADA in September to reinstate Russia's anti-doping agency RUSADA.
RUSADA was suspended in 2015 after a WADA-commissioned report outlined evidence of systematic, state-backed doping in Russian athletics.
Another report the following year documented more than 1,000 doping cases across dozens of sports, notably at the Winter Olympics that Russia hosted in Sochi in 2014. Russia has denied state involvement in doping.
Tygart said other factors were making the outlook brighter for clean athletes.
"We have got athletes, governments standing up like never before, we've got law enforcement breaking up schemes as we saw in Austria, we've got a WADA presidency change coming up this year," he said on the sidelines of a WADA symposium.
"I think that's really good for clean athletes (who) have more hope today that the system is going to truly protect their rights than ever before.
"What I know is that hurricane winds of change are raging through the system."
Five athletes were arrested last month following a police raid at the Nordic skiing world championships in Seefeld, Austria.
The raids were part of a broader operation targeting a Germany-based "criminal organisation" suspected of having carried out blood doping for years, the Austrian police said.
Tygart also pointed to the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act in the United States, designed to crack down on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in major international sporting competitions involving U.S. participants.
Named after Grigory Rodchenkov, Russia's former anti-doping chief-turned-whistleblower, it would establish stiff penalties for anyone involved in doping at a competition with U.S. involvement.
"I think law enforcement are saying they are going step in to step the job... criminalisation can help in a big way to ensure the rights of athletes are ultimately protected," said Tygart.
However, the act has brought an angry response from the International Olympic Committee which told the U.S. it should do more to clean up its own doping issues, particularly what it sees as inadequate testing in professional and college sports.
WADA will elect a new president this year to replace Craig Reedie, a former head of the British Olympic Association, and, under the agency's rotational system, the next incumbent will be from a public authority rather than a sporting administration.
Tygart said that "the milk had been spilt" over the RUSADA re-admission and he was now hoping that access WADA has been granted to the tainted Moscow laboratory would yield results.
"We hope that the data will be organised in a timely fashion and the exact number of cases will be made public and that justice is served as quick as possible," he said.
"It's time athletes who have been robbed by this doping system... are given the medals that the rightfully deserve."
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge)