Los Angeles, United States: The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will be delivering a hammer blow to the morale of clean athletes if it lifts sanctions against Russia this week, United States Anti-Doping chief executive Tygart Travis warned Monday.
In a telephone interview with AFP, Tygart said WADA was entering the "last chance saloon" as it prepares to decide on Russia's fate at a meeting in the Seychelles on Thursday.
WADA stunned the sports world last week after announcing that the body's compliance review committee had recommended lifting it's three-year suspension of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA).
The recommendation, which paves the way for Russia's readmission into international sport if approved, came after the committee said it had reviewed a letter from the Russia Ministry of Sport which "sufficiently acknowledged" failures in the doping scandal uncovered in 2015.
WADA said Russia had also vowed to provide full access to data and samples from its drug-tainted Moscow laboratory, the second of two key demands required for reinstatement.
Speaking to AFP on Monday, however, Tygart criticized the apparent softening of WADA's position, voicing fears the reinstatement of Russia could have a corrosive effect on the morale of athletes committed to competing cleanly.
'A horrible position'
"I think they're entering their last chance saloon," Tygart said of WADA. "They have an opportunity to right the ship, but athletes are frustrated.
"In the words of athletes out there, they want Russia back at any cost. And even at the cost of the credibility of the system and the weakening of WADA in the eyes of the world.
"That's a horrible position to be in if you're an athlete. Because it's tough enough to live by the anti-doping rules. You want to compete clean and you're willing to do it. But that's as long as you believe those that are enforcing the rules against others have your back.
"The moment you think they're willing to turn a blind eye -- whether it's a large country like Russia, or individual athletes -- that then puts a lot of pressure on you to similarly throw in the towel, and cheat.
"And so that's the climate we now face, where athletes are put in a position where they don't have confidence in the global watchdog to protect them and they are seriously asking themselves 'Is doing it the right way really important?'"
Tygart said WADA's release of correspondence on Saturday, intended to provide transparency over its dealings with Russian authorities, had merely shown the agency had "tried to pull a fast one."
"They got caught with their hand in the cookie jar," he said. "They were forced to make their announcement on Saturday to release the additional documents. But the documents now plainly reveal what everyone prior to that suspected -- that they compromized and entered a 'nuanced agreement.'
"It's really laughable."
'Slap in the face'
Tygart said there was no evidence that Russia had fully acknowledged the extent and scale of the doping scandal uncovered in the WADA investigation by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren in 2015, which detailed a vast, government-supported doping conspiracy.
"We all know that admitting the problem is the first step in curing the problem," Tygart said. "Athletes deserve an apology. Not some vague letter that means nothing at the same time that they (Russia) are publicly denying everything and saying they never did any of this.
"It's a joke. And it's another slap in the face to clean athletes around the world."
Tygart also laughed off any suggestion that Russia could be trusted to undertake reforms.
"'We promise to play by the rules this time?' Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Come on. This is trust, but verify. So far all we've got is 'Trust us, we want to be back in the sporting world," he said.
Nevertheless, Tygart expressed hope that Thursday's WADA executive committee decision on Russia was not necessarily a foregone conclusion, noting the resignation on Saturday of compliance committee member Beckie Scott, an Olympic gold medallist who remains chairwoman of WADA's athletes committee.
"I'm not sure they're there yet. Beckie Scott resigned from the compliance review committee. She's been a vocal, principled advocate of a fair approach on this issue. I don't think it's a done deal that the executive committee will reinstate," he said.
"We'll see ultimately how the vote goes. If it goes that way, it's a terrible day for clean athletes, but it's not time for clean athletes to throw in the towel. That's who we care most about.
"These organizations that have flawed governance systems, hopefully they will eventually have a day of reckoning and change. But trying to combine that with encouraging athletes is a difficult thing to do.
"Our hope is that athletes don't lose all hope and throw in the towel. I think it will be an unfortunate outcome."
Tygart said Olympic broadcasters and sponsors could ultimately bring pressure to bear to strengthen global anti-doping efforts.
"At some point, broadcasters and the sponsors are going to see a failed system and are going to demand more," he said. "Is that moment now? I don't know. They've been awfully silent.
"At the end of the day, the Olympic flame is not going to burn nearly as bright if we don't have an independent, global watchdog to ensure integrity for health and safety of athletes."