WADA's Niggli says Russian anti-doping system moving in right direction
RUSADA has "completely changed" and is now "a very efficient and good anti-doping organisation", World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Director General Olivier Niggli told AFP.
Niggli was speaking after WADA decided to take no further action against RUSADA at a meeting on Tuesday for missing a deadline to allow access to the Moscow laboratory at the centre of alleged state-sponsored doping.
He said things were moving in the right direction after years of the Russians dragging their feet.
WADA conditionally lifted a ban on RUSADA in September last year, which was roundly criticised by several athletes and US anti-doping chief Travis Tygart, with one of the conditions being access to thousands of samples at the tainted Moscow lab by the end of 2018.
But when a WADA team arrived last month, Russian authorities raised issues with the certification of their equipment under Russian law. The data was eventually extracted this month.
Niggli, though, says that obtaining the data shows to him the decision was the right one to take even if it was not "universally popular", as without it Russia might well have stonewalled again.
One of the positives to emerge from the affair is the transformation of RUSADA, according to Niggli.
"Certainly RUSADA has completely changed. It's a new organisation," said Niggli.
"We performed an audit of RUSADA in December which went very well and they came out of it as a very efficient and good anti-doping organisation.
"I think this is a very promising thing going forward because having a good anti-doping system in Russia is what everybody needs.
"That's the key to the future."
Niggli, who has been in his post since replacing the long-serving Davd Howman in January 2016, added a caveat, however.
"Is everything ok? I wouldn't say so but certainly going in the right direction at the moment."
WADA's decision is the latest chapter in an affair that surfaced with Richard McLaren's July 2016 report detailing doping in Russia from 2011 to 2015 involving more than 1,000 athletes across more than 30 sports.
- 'We can get justice' -
Niggli said one had to be prudent ahead of the analysis of the data, but he feared there could potentially be several hundred doping cases.
"We have a number of cases we think are highly suspicious and they have already been identified because we already had some data," he said.
"What we need now is to see if the further data we got, the raw data will back up what we already have and will provide sufficient evidence so that these cases can be prosecuted."
Niggli says that for the moment "technically they are not positive cases".
"It is important to understand that cases will only be prosecuted on the basis of a number of pieces of evidence that needs to be put together," said Niggli.
"We will see whether it turns into 100 or hundreds. We will know better in a few months once we have done this analysis."
Niggli, who insists WADA has learned a lot from the scandal and is much better equipped now to deal with a similar affair, hopes the critics such as Tygart, who was quick to berate WADA for Tuesday's decision, will stop their barracking.
"I hope it will stop," he said. "I hope that people will realise all we have done so far is to strive to get this data so we can get justice and get to the bottom of it.
"People have to understand there is a process to be followed...
"We are the regulator. If we deviate from our role just to satisfy the impatience of some, which I can understand, this is not going to take us forward."
Many athletes and organisations have emerged battered from the experience but Niggli hopes that Russia will draw its own conclusions.
"I hope the Russians have learnt from this too and it will not happen in that country again."
© 2019 AFP