By Brian Homewood
LAUSANNE (Reuters) - Russia's progress towards being declared compliant with international anti-doping standards has become bogged down over two key points, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said on Wednesday.
WADA president Craig Reedie told a conference in Lausanne that he was "encouraged by the significant progress" made by RUSADA (the Russian anti-doping agency) but added it was still taking too long.
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"We want to welcome an independent and efficient RUSADA back in from the cold... it's just a pity it is taking so long for Russian authorities to make it happen," he said.
RUSADA was declared non-compliant in 2015 after a report commissioned by WADA found widespread doping in the country's athletics.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and WADA have since launched a string of investigations — including one by Canadian sports lawyer Richard McLaren — to look into what has become the biggest doping scandal in years, engulfing many sports and said to involve more than 1,000 athletes.
After escaping a blanket ban from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, Russia was barred from last month's Winter Games in Pyeongchang although more than 100 of the country's athletes were permitted to compete as neutrals.
Russia has repeatedly denied any state involvement in doping.
Reedie said the sticking-points involved Russia's refusal to acknowledge the systemic doping alleged in the McLaren report and its failure to allow access to Moscow's suspended anti-doping laboratory.
"We agreed a roadmap to RUSADA compliance in January 2017, we have worked with them to fulfil all but two of the agreed conditions and we have been discussing these conditions for the past 15 months," said Reedie.
He said progress on the first point was slow "despite a significant amount of work being carried out by WADA to persuade the Russian authorities to recognise and accept as true the systemic doping scheme as revealed by the McLaren report."
He added said that WADA made an offer to Russia's investigative committee last month to visit the Moscow laboratory together, but it had "fallen on deaf ears."
"We have written to the investigative committee on four separate occasions and have yet to receive a single response," he said.
RUSADA director general Yuri Ganus said the two points were outside his agency's jurisdiction.
"It doesn't depend on us... we aren't responsible for it," he told reporters after Reedie's address. "We are doing our best... it's a question for state officials and it's a question of negotiation."
Russia's investigative committee could not immediately be reached for comment.
Reedie said the impasse was damaging for Russia.
"Every Russian sporting victory will be questioned, and the world will find it difficult to believe that change can be delivered in that country," he said.
"The big losers are Russia's own athletes... future participation of Russian athletes at major sporting events will continue to be put in doubt."
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Pritha Sarkar)