The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced on Thursday it has handed the dossiers of 298 Russian athletes to 28 different Anti-Doping organisations (ADOs) including 27 International Federations as part of its five-year probe into "institutionalized doping" in Russia.
A previous independent investigation by Richard McLaren's group turned up evidence of tampering with anti-doping test results, disappearing hundreds of positive samples across a wide range of sports. Some Russian athletes were excluded from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro after the McLaren report, three of which were from cycling.
WADA's independent Intelligence and Investigations (I&I) team completed a "painstaking" process of building cases on each athlete after retrieving a copy of the Moscow Laboratory Information Management System.
Russia was required to turn over the LIMS data by December 31, 2018, as a condition of the country being deemed 'compliant' with the WADA code but when it did finally turn over the data investigators found evidence that the LIMS data had been tampered with.
145 of the 298 athlete cases were affected by manipulation but WADA said it would let the "relevant organizations access and evaluate all available evidence" when deciding whether to pursue action.
The manipulation of the LIMS data led to WADA declaring the Russian Anti-Doping Agency 'non-compliant' for four years - a case still being decided in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that will decide Russia's Olympic future.
Now that the Olympic Games have been postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the case against Russia could be resolved before the Tokyo Summer Olympics go forward.
The fate of the 298 athletes is now in the hands of the relevant organisation that will decide whether or not to pursue action. WADA said it would review each ADO's decision and appeal, if need be, to the CAS.
"WADA's investigations team continues to make steady progress on this extremely challenging, long-running and multi-faceted investigation," Gunter Younger, director for the WADA's I&I team said. "We have built these case packages based on all available evidence and we will continue to provide assistance and advice to the relevant organizations as they assess whether they will bring them forward as doping cases.
"The fact that we have moved to the results management phase now for the entire target group means we are another step closer to bringing those who cheated to justice. This has always been the objective for us as we continue to do what is best for clean sport and athletes around the world."
WADA President Witold Bańka emphasized how enormous size of the investigation. "This has been the most complex enquiry in anti-doping history and WADA's investigations team has been doing an outstanding job," he said. "It has been a huge undertaking, involving thousands of samples, 24 terabytes of data, hundreds of athletes across 28 organizations, and it is delivering real results.
"The Russian doping crisis has dominated WADA's time and resources over the past five years and the Agency's investigations team has been on the front line. I would like to thank them for their diligence, professionalism and expertise, as well as the organizations that have now received case packages for the work they will do and their ongoing cooperation in protecting clean sport and for bringing as many cheats to justice as possible."