WADA in crossfire

Photo: Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game

Travis Tygart, head of USADA, was among the participants at this week's anti-doping summit at the White House. Photo: Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game


By Stine Alvad
Athletes and leaders of national anti-doping agencies worldwide join in demand for WADA reform and an independent investigation into the culture of the agency following bullying claims.

An emergency summit, convened by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in Washington DC, set out to discuss calls for reforms of the current anti-doping system forwarded from various sides. According to reports, the summit was attended by representatives from various governments and national anti-doping agencies as well as a number of Olympic athletes, including Callum Skinner, Emma Coburn and Lilly King.

"We aren't just asking for WADA to change. We are asking for systematic and deep change," said James Carroll, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy deputy director, according to AFP. "We are united in calling for the World Anti-Doping Agency to provide stronger leadership on behalf of clean competition."

The summit resulted in a declaration calling for wide-reaching reforms in the World Anti-Doping Agency, more respect and inclusion of athletes and an independent inquiry into claims of the organisation bullying the ones that call for reforms, among other points.

"WADA must be reformed to make it stronger and more accountable to clean athletes in order for governments, the public, and athletes to continue to support and believe in it," the declaration reads.

Athletes oppose RUSADA decision
WADA has been the object of heavy critique since its September 20 decision to reinstate RUSADA on the condition that the Russian member organisation grants access to its Moscow laboratory files before 31 December this year.

While this critique stems from many sides in the sports world, ranging from former WADA Director David Howman who deplored that WADA had turned into an organisation that put “money over principle” to the Movement for a Credible Cycling, a union of professional cycling teams, who earlier this week called for the resignation of current WADA President Sir Craig Reedie, the most outspoken critique has come from parts of the athlete community, where the decision to reinstate RUSADA has been widely condemned.

At the summit in Washington DC, attendees held speeches of which the majority seemed to agree that WADA has failed one of its main purposes: protecting clean athletes.

“Instead of backing the thousands of clean athletes around the world who have the right to compete on a level playing field they bow to politics over principle, earnings over ethics, autocracy over accountability,” British cyclist Skinner said at the summit, according to The Guardian.

Russian whistleblower Yulija Stepanova, whose testimony was instrumental in the revelation of the Russian doping system, also gave a speech at the summit, describing WADA and the IOC as opponents:

"My husband and I are not just fighting doping but are increasingly fighting IOC and WADA. We now know WADA does not follow its own rules, even though athletes are asked to," a USADA tweet quoted Stepanova saying.

Government representatives also aired concern with the way WADA has dealt with the Russian doping affair.

“WADA has been soft in readmitting Russia and has betrayed its own principles,” Scottish sports minister Shane Ross said, writes the Guardian.

18 NADOs pledge support for athletes
Earlier this week, leaders from 18 national anti-doping agencies, some of them also present in DC, attended another emergency summit, in Paris, and afterwards issued a statement fully supporting athletes in their call for reform and influence in doping questions.

“While others may not be listening to your concerns and your solutions for how to improve WADA Governance, we wish to make it clear that we, the anti-doping leaders, do. We stand united with you,” the NADOs said to athletes through their Paris statement.

At the Paris summit, the NADOs also reaffirmed their commitment to the Copenhagen Reform Proposals forwarded by a group of NADOs and iNADO in August 2016 calling for a strengthening of anti-doping efforts and dedicated work in restoring athletes’ and the public’s trust in the anti-doping system.

NADO leaders also expressed support for an “athlete-led anti-doping revolution” named “The Alternative: Reforming WADA Governance for a new Anti-Doping Age” launched by athlete Ali Jawad on behalf of ‘global athletes’. The Alternative proposals include an extensive change of the WADA executive committee and the establishment of a new Governance and Nomination Committee, both moves in order to enforce independence of WADA.

WADA whereabouts
Representatives from several national anti-doping agencies, including USA, Canada, Germany and Norway, were also present at the White House event, where head of USADA, Travis Tygart, criticised the world anti-doping body for being reluctant in engaging in the discussions and calls raised by athletes.

“…[I]nstead of working with them [athletes], we are hearing excuses and attacks against people who want to reform the system,” Tygart said to The Guardian.

There seems to be diverting perceptions of whether WADA was invited to join the White House summit or not. According to WADA, they were not invited, something that Tygart negates, arguing that both Linda Helleland, WADA vice-president and two executive committee members were present at the summit.

Apparently, Helleland had been contacted by WADA President Craig Reedie prior to the summit regarding her presence at the meeting. An open conflict between the two emerged afterwards with Helleland sending a sharp message to Reedie on Twitter stating: “Dear President Reedie. I meet who I want. Athletes, NADO’s or Government representatives. And YES! I think Athletes should be represented at all governing bodies at @wada_ama”.

In a response to the critique raised in DC, Reedie took a direct hit at Tygart, urging him to focus on code-compliance in US professional sports rather than attacking WADA.

"I would like to think that at some future date, he [Tygart] might address USADA's efforts to looking at the large area of American sport which is not code-compliant and events which aren't code-compliant," Reedie said according to Inside the Games.

"And I think that would be a greater contribution to clean sport in the world than continually complaining about what WADA does."

A lack of 'credible alternatives'
According to Hajo Seppelt and Nick Butler from German media ARD Sportschau, WADA should “embrace these sorts of events and engage in discussion instead of being opposed,” they write in a report from the summit, in which they also find that no ‘credible alternatives’ to the current structure were presented.

“A genuine and open discussion between all parties and WADA President Sir Craig Reedie about how to rebuild trust seems long overdue. But this is not how sports politics seems to work in 2018,” they write. “Until it happens, there will be little focus on real priorities.”

In 2016 WADA set up a ‘Governance Working Group’ to ensure the independence of the anti-doping system from sports organizations and national governments and to otherwise examine ways to strengthen WADA’s governance structure. The group will be reporting to the WADA Foundation Board at its upcoming meeting  on 15 November in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Among the proposals and recommendations for the WADA FB to consider, is a proposal to include are having athlete and NADO representation in all standing committees and replacing the current model where the presidency rotates between a government official and an Olympic movement representative into an independent leadership (president and vice president). Read more about the recommendations.

WADA's future is at stake and the current conflict between its stakeholders seems to be growing deeper each day at the moment. The next crucial stage in the saga will be January 1st when the world will know if the decision to reinstate RUSADA  results in the desired outcome for WADA or if it will spark further criticism of the organisation.

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