By Karolos Grohmann
KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) - Outgoing World Anti-Doping Agency president Craig Reedie said on Tuesday the scale and size of the Russian doping scandal that erupted in 2015 had overwhelmed his organisation at the time.
Speaking at the World Conference on doping in sport, Reedie said the Russian doping affair that emerged ahead of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and saw the involvement of a vast number of athletes, coaches and officials was the biggest challenge WADA had faced in its 20-year existence.
"The worst case of system failure in my time as president of WADA or in the entire time of the anti-doping movement is Russia," Reedie told the conference.
He said the level of cheating was "unprecedented," leaving WADA under mounting pressure to work for all clean athletes as the Russian anti-doping agency (RUSADA) was declared non-compliant.
"What it (scandal) taught us when it erupted was that we were not equipped to deal with such a large-scale programme," Reedie said.
RUSADA was suspended after the 2015 WADA report found evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russian sport and the country was barred from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics the following year.
All Russian athletes also competed as independents at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
RUSADA's suspension was lifted in September 2018 amid strong criticism as WADA gradually got access to key Russian athletes' data from the Russian lab.
But in September WADA said it had again opened compliance proceedings against RUSADA after finding "inconsistencies" in the vast bank of historical testing data finally handed over in January.
That means RUSADA are again at risk of being declared non-compliant and thus putting Russia's participation at the Tokyo Olympics next year at risk.
Reedie did not say when a decision on the matter would be taken.
He later told a news conference he thought there would be no repeat of the situation before the 2016 Olympics where it was unclear which Russian athletes were eligible and which were not as dozens of legal appeals were made over the ban.
"I am pretty confident that in the short term - you mentioned Tokyo 2020 - a repetition of that situation is unlikely," said Reedie, who will be replaced by Poland's sports minister Witold Banka on Jan. 1.
"I think we are better at spotting these issues. We have better company structures, and we know much more about the business," said Reedie, who is also an IOC member.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Hugh Lawson)