BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Russia will allow an international delegation to inspect its shuttered drug-testing lab this month, World Anti-Doping Agency president Craig Reedie said Thursday.
The visit is part of a deal between WADA and the Russian government which allowed the country's anti-doping agency to be reinstated in September, following a suspension of almost three years because of widespread drug use and cover-ups.
The September deal gave Russia a deadline of Dec. 31 to provide full data from the lab, which has been closed since 2015. That could help WADA ban athletes for past doping violations. Russia must also hand over samples from the lab for reanalysis by June 30.
"We have an absolutely written guarantee that this will happen from the authorities in Russia and they have accepted the date of Dec. 31," Reedie said. "I find it almost inconceivable to believe that we don't complete this project in time."
Russian authorities had been slow to agree on conditions, but Reedie said he received a letter from Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov hours before Thursday's meeting.
"We will be sending a team of highly qualified experts. Everybody knows what they've been asked to provide. The experts will deliver it and I'm perfectly confident that we have the right people going in," Reedie said. "This will resolve the situation we have with the Russian authorities."
The first visit — which isn't expected to recover the data — will involve three "independent people" and "the Russians will also have some people," Jonathan Taylor, who leads WADA's compliance committee, told The Associated Press.
"A full technical mission" will follow up to gather information, Reedie said.
Emails from the laboratory revealed in a WADA investigation showed that it routinely covered up doping by top Russian athletes. It's not clear what any retesting of stored samples could accomplish, since staff allegedly destroyed more than 1,400 samples in 2015 to obstruct WADA's investigations.
Russian law enforcement has sealed off the lab for its own investigation, which so far has focused on accusing former lab director and WADA informant Grigory Rodchenkov of lying about doping on the country's Olympic team and of tricking clean athletes into taking banned substances.
The Russian sports minister said he reached an agreement with WADA for lab access and added he was in contact with law enforcement.
"We will fulfill our obligations to the full regarding allowing them into the laboratory," Kolobkov said in a statement.
The Russian anti-doping agency, known as RUSADA, could be suspended again if the government misses the Dec. 31 deadline.
"We really hope that the process of accessing the sealed-off data has exited deadlock," RUSADA chief executive Yuri Ganus told the Tass state news agency.
WADA said its board also approved the creation of an "independent ethics board," a development which follows a dispute over alleged bullying at a meeting in September.
It is not yet clear how the new ethics board would differ from the existing Ethics Panel's advisory role, or if it could discipline WADA officials.
"There are some details to work out on that in the coming weeks," Fitzgerald told the AP.
Also, Nigeria's national drug-testing agency has been declared non-compliant by WADA.
According to WADA statistics, the Nigerian National Anti-Doping Committee registered only 30 samples tested last year, one of the smallest numbers of any large country. Of those, seven were positive.
Ellingworth reported from Moscow.
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