Russia still 'not compliant' over doping as Olympics loom
Russia moved a step closer to being barred from the Winter Olympics in February when the World Anti-Doping Agency declined to lift the suspension of Moscow's national anti-doping body on Thursday.
In a blow to Russia, the World Anti-Doping Agency maintained their suspension of the Russian body, RUSADA, which was first imposed in 2015 when evidence emerged of widespread cheating.
WADA's decision comes before the International Olympic Committee's executive board meet next month to consider whether Russia can compete at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The independent McLaren report detailed a state-sponsored doping conspiracy from 2011 to 2015, including the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where the hosts topped the medals table.
"We do not have the right to decide who takes part in international competition," WADA president Craig Reedie told reporters following a Foundation Board meeting in Seoul.
"The major event-holder has that right. We regret that RUSADA is not yet compliant. Technically, they have improved hugely since compliance was removed.
"But having set a road map for compliance, there are two issues that have to be fulfilled and we can't walk away from the commitments we have from that road map."
Reacting to the WADA decision, the IOC said they "will take all the circumstances, including all the measures to ensure a level-playing field at the Olympic Winter Games 2018, into consideration when it decides on the participation of the Russian athletes in Pyeongchang."
The Kremlin called the decision to maintain Russia's suspension "unfair".
"This is unpleasant news," Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
"We do not agree with this decision, we believe it to be unfair. We denounced, and continue to denounce, accusations that cases of doping had some kind of state support," Peskov said.
"We are preparing for the Olympic Games," he added.
WADA have demanded that Russia accept the findings of the McLaren report and allow access to urine samples stored at its Moscow laboratory as part of a "road map" back to compliance.
The report by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren accused Russia's secret service and sports ministry of orchestrating a plot that included using a "mousehole" to replace dirty samples at the Sochi doping laboratory.
- 'We deny state-sponsored doping' -
Russia admit failings in their doping system but deny state involvement, instead blaming officials at RUSADA and the Moscow laboratory.
"We accept the fact our national anti-doping system has failed... (but) we absolutely deny a state-sponsored doping system," Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said in Seoul.
He added that an unconditional recognition of the McLaren report "is impossible".
Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov pointed to improvements within RUSADA, and insisted it was independent of state control as he pleaded for the agency to be reinstated.
"RUSADA performs all functions within the World Anti-Doping Code," he said. "I guarantee RUSADA will be fully independent, it is a totally new organisation."
"We are ready to go forward and work openly in the full standards of WADA. Please let us be compliant."
After WADA denied that request on Thursday, RUSADA boss Yury Ganus said the organisation would continue "the huge amount" of work it has done in recent months.
"RUSADA meets all the principles of independence and transparency", Ganus told reporters in Moscow, adding that "according to the number of tests (the agency) will be one of the largest anti-doping agencies in the world."
- Lack of 'trust' -
Progress has been made and WADA has them the right to collect samples. They also audited the body in September.
But suspicions remain. Foundation Board member Adam Pengilly asked how WADA could "trust" Russia's new anti-doping regime "until there is a real acknowledgement of what happened?"
Last week, WADA also said they had obtained an "enormous" internal database of Russian drug test results from 2012-2015.
WADA's refusal to readmit Russia may not be fatal to the country's chances of competing in Pyeongchang.
In 2016, the IOC ignored WADA's calls to ban Russia from the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro over the McLaren report, instead leaving the decision to individual sports bodies.
Kuwait, Equatorial Guinea and Mauritius were also declared non-compliant at the WADA meeting.