MOSCOW -- A delegation from the World Anti-Doping Agency arrived for talks Wednesday with Russian authorities in Moscow as it tries to access data that could lead to more bans for top Russian athletes who cheated in past years.
The delegation will visit the Moscow laboratory at the heart of a vast cover-up of Russian doping cases as it tries to figure out how to obtain computer data.
Russia must provide the data before Dec. 31 or risk having its national anti-doping agency suspended again, two months after its controversial reinstatement.
"We are very pleased to be here in Russia for this important meeting," WADA's top science official Olivier Rabin said. "We believe it's a sign that we are making progress in our discussions with the Russian authorities."
WADA has found extensive evidence that Russia routinely falsified drug-testing results, including at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but must now hope the Russian authorities provide genuine data this time. Russia also must submit athletes' stored samples for analysis by June 30.
Jim Walden, the lawyer for former lab director and WADA whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, told The Associated Press he expects Russia to either hold back the data or provide false information.
"I would posit that there is zero chance that Russia will give access to the backup data for the computers that were used during Sochi, and the lab equipment and the stored samples," Walden said Tuesday. "So the central question's going to be: When the Russians refuse, what will WADA do? And if it capitulates again, then unfortunately the world would know that Russia really was successful at killing anti-doping."
"I think there is a substantial chance that if Russia provides anything it all, it will be doctored," Walden added.
WADA isn't expected to return with the data after Wednesday's visit, which aims to set a procedure for a second team to arrive and collect the files.
"Today, we are not having any access to any data," Rabin said. "We are explaining what we expect, and we are discussing with our Russian colleagues what they expect as well from this technical visit in December."
Any data can be checked against an unauthorized copy of the lab's database that WADA obtained last year in unclear circumstances. Walden said Rodchenkov -- who is under witness protection in the United States -- played no role in obtaining that data and explained that WADA's confidential source was likely "someone who was still in the lab."
If Russia does re-suspend the Russian agency, known as RUSADA, new rules mean that could severely obstruct Russia's ability to host major sports events. The previous RUSADA suspension didn't stop Russia from holding this year's soccer World Cup, during which FIFA excluded all Russians from any role in collecting players' drug-testing samples.