The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has reinstated the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) nearly three years after it was suspended for its central role in the country's doping scandal.
The decision, which will provoke fury among athletes and anti-doping experts around the world, was reached at a meeting of WADA's 12-strong executive committee in the Seychelles.
In a statement released on Twitter, WADA president Sir Craig Reedie said: "Today, the great majority of WADA's ExCo decided to reinstate RUSADA as compliant with the code subject to strict conditions, upon recommendation by the agency's independent CRC (Compliance Review Committee) and in accordance with an agreed process.
"This decision provides a clear timeline by which WADA must be given access to the former Moscow laboratory data and samples with a clear commitment by the ExCo that should this timeline not be met, it would support the CRC's recommendation to reinstate non-compliance."
— Daley Thompson (@Daley_thompson) September 20, 2018
RUSADA and its Moscow laboratory were suspended in November 2015 when a WADA-sponsored investigation into allegations of cheating within Russian athletics first uncovered evidence of a state-run doping conspiracy.
Further proof of Russia's endemic cheating emerged in 2016, when a second investigation, led by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, broadened the scandal to more than 1,000 athletes, in 30 sports, over a five-year period.
WADA, however, had already agreed a "roadmap to compliance" for RUSADA with the Russian authorities by this point and steady progress was made on restructuring the disgraced agency and retraining its staff during 2016 and 2017.
But momentum on two remaining criteria – public acceptance of the McLaren report and allowing independent access to the Moscow lab's data and stored samples – ground to a halt, heaping pressure on WADA's leadership to compromise and revise the roadmap.
After months of secret negotiation, WADA and Russian sports minister Pavel Kolobkov finally agreed a deal on the two outstanding criteria on Thursday and that is what the executive committee has approved in the Seychelles.
Russia will agree to admit that certain individuals within the sports ministry, RUSADA and the Moscow lab were to blame – but nobody further up the chain of command – and a mutually-agreed independent expert will be given access to the lab within a fixed period after reinstatement.
Holding Russia to account on the latter, will be crucial to how this deal is accepted by athletes and anti-doping experts, although the overwhelming majority are already dismayed that the country responsible for one of sport's worst scandals has been given any wriggle room at all.
The fact it has, however, can largely be explained by the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) desire to bring Russia in from the cold: RUSADA's suspension has underpinned the bans on Russia's athletics federation and national Paralympic committee, and prevented all international sports federations from planning any major events in Russia.
In a statement, an IOC spokesperson said: "We take note of the decision taken by the executive committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which is made up of an equal number of members from governments and from the sports movement. It follows the recommendation of the independent Compliance Review Committee."
Unsurprisingly, all six of the IOC's representatives on the ExCo backed the compromise, with three of the six representatives from national governments also agreeing to it.
WADA's vice-president Linda Helleland had already revealed she would reject it and it is understood that New Zealand's sports minister Grant Robertson backed her, with one abstention.
Reaction to the decision is likely to split into two camps, with some seeing it as a common-sense solution to a deadlock that was hurting innocent Russian athletes and causing headaches for sports administrators. They will also claim that Russian cooperation on the issue of lab access is the only way to ensure any of the potential 4,500 anti-doping cases ever proceed.
The other camp, however, will view this as a betrayal of Olympic values and clean athletes everywhere, and very possibly the death knell for WADA.
UK Sport demanded an explanation, stating: "We are disappointed in the decision taken by the WADA executive committee. We call on WADA to fully and transparently explain how it came to the compromise of reinstating Russia – and how it will ensure that the new conditions are fully met and implemented.
"A strong WADA and a unified anti-doping community are vital to the integrity of sport and to ensure public trust and support is maintained."
Jim Walden, the American lawyer of one of the main whistle-blowers in this saga, former Moscow lab boss Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, said: "WADA's decision to reinstate Russia represents the greatest treachery against clean athletes in Olympic history.
"The United States is wasting its money by continuing to fund WADA, which is obviously impotent to address Russia's state-sponsored doping."