MOSCOW (AP) -- The head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency welcomed Friday an apparent breakthrough in a standoff over data sealed in a Moscow laboratory that could implicate numerous Russian athletes in past drug cases.
Russian authorities missed a Dec. 31 deadline to hand over the data but the Russian Sports Ministry said Thursday a WADA team had begun work to copy data from the lab.
The World Anti-Doping Agency contentiously lifted a suspension on the Russian anti-doping agency, known as RUSADA, last year but it could issue further sanctions if WADA isn't satisfied with the level of Russian cooperation.
"Of course we're pleased" at WADA's access to the lab, RUSADA's chief executive Yuri Ganus told The Associated Press on Friday, adding that "I don't see any other path" if Russia is to fully rejoin world sports following its doping scandals.
"We look at it positively, even just the fact that access has been granted," Ganus said.
RUSADA collects urine and blood samples from athletes but doesn't test the samples and doesn't have access to the lab and data, which are sealed off by Russian law enforcement.
That means RUSADA could be suspended for events beyond its control, such as Russian law enforcement obstructing WADA's team. Another WADA delegation left empty-handed last month after Russia objected to its equipment.
"We're caught in the crossfire," said Ganus, who appealed directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin last month asking for more cooperation. "We're actually deeply concerned that it should be in Russia's interest to open the laboratory as soon as possible."
A new suspension for RUSADA would be under updated WADA rules, potentially stopping Russia hosting major competitions until WADA is satisfied it has reformed.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has called for immediate suspension of RUSADA because Russia missed the New Year deadline.
Ganus took over his agency in 2017. RUSADA had a skeleton staff after almost all employees were removed following allegations the agency helped cover up drug use. Since then, it's started collecting samples from athletes again and ruffled feathers in the Russian state sport system with a new investigation unit.
If RUSADA is suspended again, Ganus argues, it would risk the progress some in Russian sport have made to clean up the system. He said his aim is a system where Russians no longer watch their athletes win competitions, only for them to be stripped of the medal after lab tests.
"We need young, clean athletes and wins no one can take away," he said. "What kind of victories just disappear after a while?