The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has backed the plan for an independent testing authority (ITA) and said it would be operational in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Valerie Fourneyron, chairman of WADA's Medical Committee, headed a working group to study the creation of the new testing agency. She said it was a "piece of the puzzle" in the fight against drugs.

The body would "allow greater efficiency to ensure that tests improve," Fourneyron said.

However, Fourneyron conceded that international sports federations could choose whether or not to come under the jurisdiction of the testing body.

"It is not legally possible to force them to join," Fourneyron said.

It means that powerful sports federations which already have their own testing regimes may choose not to join.

Nevertheless the announcement was welcomed by representatives of the anti-doping establishment.

Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and a long-time advocate of a fully independent, properly funded global drug-testing body, said the move was a step in the right direction.

"For clean athletes, this is the first glimmer of hope after months of pushing for reform," Tygart said in a statement to AFP.

"The devil will be in the details, of course, but it's an improvement on the status quo."

Fourneyron said the ITA's board of directors would comprise five members — a chairman, an IOC representative, a representative from an international federation, an athlete and a doping expert.

A Wada representative will sit on the ITA board but purely in an advisory capacity without voting rights.

The director general of the agency would be appointed by the board of directors and funding would be provided by the IOC.

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