WADA reforms have not gone far enough to enhance WADA’s independence
Photo: Ali Jawad
Let me start with a clear statement. The World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) reforms are superficial and lack meaningful change, not least when presented in the context of the last couple of years when athletes have found their voice and called for substantial change to anti-doping governance.
WADA President Sir Craig Reedie’s statement that he “welcomes feedback” from iNADO and by extension NADOs, well, in my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth and history will show that. A few examples: if you look at the suggestion NADOs have made concerning concrete governance reforms and WADA’s stance on Russia, their suggestions have not only fallen on deaf ears, but they have also been openly and publicly dismissed despite their views often being closely aligned with athletes and public opinion.
However, when the Olympic Movement has called for reforms WADA has acted favourably almost every time. The governance reforms were suggested by the IOC based on “WADA’s infectiveness to handle the Russia case”; when in fact it was the Olympic Movement that poorly handled the Russian case before the 2016 Olympics in Rio. WADA made strong recommendations to ban the Russian Olympic Committee, WADA took action to deem the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) non-compliant and to revoke the Moscow Laboratory accreditation. If only WADA had continued to remain that strong and not bow to the pressure of the Olympic Movement, but the WADA President and by extension WADA, took a beating from IOC President Thomas Bach at the 2016 IOC session in Rio. In my opinion, this was the start of a strategy for the Olympic Movement to gain more control of a once independent agency.
To say that there has been advancements in athlete engagement by providing athletes and NADOs at least one seat on WADA’s Standing Committees is insufficient and quite frankly, to the athlete community, a superficial reform. WADA’s Standing Committees have no decision-making power. They are simply in place to make recommendations.
NADOs currently fill multiple seats on each of the Standing Committees and now they are guaranteed at least one?
As for athlete reforms, the same applies; they may look good on paper for statistics, but this does not give athletes a stronger voice in the anti-doping movement; it provides them a mere advisory status but with no real authority. I would argue it does the opposite, as WADA now has the opportunity to use this rhetoric stating that athletes are engaged in every decision WADA makes which we all know is not the case.
As with the Olympic Movement, I believe these minor, small-scale changes that give the appearance of greater athlete engagement show that WADA has no real interest in empowering and engaging the athletes. We are also starting to witness rhetoric that the incoming WADA President and Vice President are athletes, and as a result, WADA has begun to portray themselves as athlete-led. Yes, they were both former athletes but now they are politicians; and every athlete can see the difference.
The answer for meaningful reforms is to engage the collective and encourage athletes to come to the table with demands. In fact, World Players Association, who has over 80,000 athlete members, has proposed meaningful change; none of which have been considered. If you really believe anti-doping is for the athletes, then you should not be afraid to meaningfully engage them on how the rules are developed and enhanced for their interest. Should athletes have fifty percent of a vote on rules that directly affect them? No government oversight, no Olympic Movement oversight will enhance WADA as they are all political in nature. Take the politics out of anti-doping and we just may be more effective – otherwise, to quote Richard Pound, “we are just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”.
If athletes had more of a say, would Russia have been allowed back before fulfilling their Roadmap criteria? If athletes had more of a say, would the Romanian NADO and Bucharest Laboratory have gone unsanctioned for corruption and cover-ups?
As for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), Antoine Duval hits the nail on the head. The appointment of arbitrators and the control of the Olympic Movement has left athletes feeling helpless with a lack of confidence in the anti-doping system. In fact, the WADA Athlete Committee in August 2017 made a clear recommendation about CAS. The notes posted on the WADA web site clearly state, “The Committee requested that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) improve and strengthen its independence and continually strive to increase the quality of its arbitrators.” The IOC itself in the 2018 Session in PyeongChang called for reforms of CAS; what has happened?
Simply put, this is how I see the WADA structure:
- Governments: Are not fully invested and for the most part they focus on the topics three weeks before a meeting. Their interventions are scripted with limited flexibility.
- Olympic Movement: Is united and wants control of WADA and it also has the ability to sway government votes to support its decisions. It pays attention to everything!
- NADOs: Are the only organizations that invests 365 days a year on anti-doping yet they have no voting rights on WADA decisions. Where’s the fairness and logic in that?
- Athletes: This entire system is built to safeguard athletes, yet they have no meaningful vote. Why the disconnection? My prediction is that moving forward, even the WADA Athlete Committee’s ability to independently speak up on issues will be diminished.
The fact that the WADA President is now welcoming feedback is positive, but welcoming something is very different from implementing reforms, particularly at a time when there is a sense of urgency. Is it any wonder why NADO's and athletes are losing confidence in the anti-doping system?
My message to all athletes is to be vocal and continue your excellent work of calling for change. Don’t accept the status quo. We can all see; the time is coming for a meaningful change.