Three years after suspending Russia's anti-doping agency for enabling athletes to cheat in the Olympics, a committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency has recommended it be reinstated.
WADA said in a statement Friday that its independent compliance review committee made the recommendation. Members were satisfied after they "reviewed at length" a letter from the Russian Ministry of Sport. They also accepted a "new commitment" to provide WADA with access to data and urine samples in a Moscow laboratory through an independent expert.
The Russian Anti-Doping Agency was suspended in 2015, after an investigation found evidence of widespread, state-sponsored doping, and staff that had covered up for athletes. Russia's Ministry of Sport and the Russian Federal Security Service were also implicated.
Friday's statement has left international athletes puzzled and dismayed since it contradicts a panel recommendation obtained by the BBC on Thursday. That document reflected a unanimous conclusion that criteria were not met to merit lifting the ban: the Russian Minister for Sport repeated a previous stance that his country's Investigative Committee and courts determine who was involved in the scheme, and he did not address access to data and samples "at all."
WADA's sudden shift follows athletes' call, earlier this week, for the agency to stand strong against pressure. Athletes of the U.K. Anti-Doping Athlete Commission wrote in a letter, "To ignore these conditions, ignores the wishes of the athletes you are there to protect. Athletes will no longer have faith in the system."
Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said in a statement emailed to NPR, "Frankly it stinks to high heaven." He called on WADA to release information that showed Russia's compliance.
He went on to say that no WADA officials have been given access to the Moscow laboratory where athletes' urine samples have been stored, nor have Russian authorities publicly accepted the findings in the McLaren report outlining wrongdoing.
"It's no wonder clean athletes are shocked and outraged at Wada's sudden about-turn curiously just days before its crunch meeting, and one day after clean athletes came out in force across the world to implore Wada to respect their rights," he said.
Earlier this month, the Russian agency's Director General Yuri Ganus said, "I don't have any optimism" that the organization will be reinstated, according to the BBC.
But Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov told media on Friday, "I was certain that the compliance review committee would, sooner or later, recognize the huge work that has been done by Russia in the fight against doping," Reuters reported.
The Russian agency also announced a lecture scheduled for later in September, called "Peak Performance without Doping: Fact or Fiction?" It will feature Yanis Pitsiladis, a professor of sport and exercise science at the University of Brighton who conducts research funded by WADA, according to his academic profile.
WADA's executive committee plans to discuss the recommendation Sep. 20 before making a public decision.
The agency said it does not typically share compliance review committee recommendations before executives make their deliberations, but "decided to do so in this case given the level of interest surrounding the matter and the amount of speculation."
In February, because Russia's Olympic committee was suspended, Russian athletes participated under a neutral flag, with the title of "Olympic Athlete from Russia." Only after the games was the committee reinstated.