‘WADA and CAS should be independent of both sport and politics’
Michael Ask spoke at Play the Game 2015. Photo: Play the Game/Thomas Søndergaard
02.08.2019By freelance journalist Lars Jørgensen
One year ago, the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, and the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations, iNADO, were standing on opposite sides in a smoldering controversy surrounding the ongoing investigation of Russian state doping which ended up being the worst crisis in international anti-doping since the creation of WADA 20 years ago.
Today, winds of change are blowing in the relationship between WADA, which is controlled by the International Olympic Committee, IOC, and the governments of the world, and in iNADO, an international interest group consisting of 67 national anti-doping organisations.
The two leading anti-doping bodies have agreed to develop a closer corporation in order to strengthen anti-doping work in countries and regions which are far behind Western countries in their fight for a clean sport.
“We have had a very long period, where Russia - for good reasons - has taken up much of the public debate on the systematic Russian cheating and the way WADA, the IOC and the international sports federations have handled the case,” the new iNADO chairman Michael Ask says in an interview with Play the Game about the controversy with WADA and his vision for international anti-doping in the future.
The 56-year-old former detective chief superintendent and Head of Department at the Danish police force has also had a career as a player and sporting leader in tennis. In 2015, he became the CEO of Anti-Doping Denmark. And in April this year he was appointed to an unpaid role as chairman of the board at iNADO in Bonn, Germany.
“It is a sign of trust, I am very proud of. The Russian case is far from over. We will still follow the development of the case. But at the same time we want to focus more on how to strengthen the corporation between WADA and iNADO.”
The development agreement was made at a reconciliation meeting between Michael Ask and WADA president Craig Reedie in Copenhagen on 18 June. The first step of the developing plan is to share information about where in the world anti-doping is lagging behind and point out ways to raise the level with the help from more developed countries.
“One of the biggest problems in sport is the different level of anti-doping around the world. If we combine WADA’s information on countries who do not live up to the international standards with iNADO’s knowledge of countries that are strong in different areas, we will hopefully be able to bring our mutual anti-doping efforts in the world of sport to the next level,” Michael Ask says.
But the agreement does not mean that WADA and iNADO now agree on every aspect of anti-doping. As an example, Michael Ask calls for the judicial bodies in WADA and the Court of Arbitration in Sport, CAS, to become independent from both the IOC and the governments. To him it is the only way to avoid any suspicion about WADA being under pressure from sports leaders and politicians.
“Today, neither WADA nor CAS is independent. We should clearly look into how we in the future can make the two institutions independent of both interests in sports organisations and political interests. I don’t know how to do it in practice. But as in the rest of society the world of sport should surely apply some mechanisms which can separate the legislative power, the executive power and the judicial power,” he says knowing that a separation of powers is a big challenge to many supporters of autonomy in sport.
“Sport should still be allowed to organise as it pleases. But when we talk about elite sport, with the many national and economic interests that are at stake in sport at this level, it makes good sense to me if WADA and CAS were independent from both the sports organisations and the political elected governments. I am talking about a separation of powers which all democratic countries endeavor.”
Today, such a separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers does not exist in Olympic sport. The IOC holds half of the power in WADA and the committee has a big influence on the judicial system in CAS where the Australian IOC-member John Coates currently is president. And the IOC does not have a habit of freely giving up power.
That makes it difficult to see an implementation of Ask’s call for a separation of powers in the near future, even though he is now praising WADA for getting access to the Russian doping samples at the lab in Moscow, which was the main reason for the anti-doping controversy last year.
No apology from Putin
In line with many athletes, iNADO criticised WADA for reinstating the Russian anti-doping agency, RUSADA, before the Russians had accepted all of WADA’s conditions.
The critics saw WADA’s tactical move as a bowing to the Russians at a time when IOC president Thomas Bach said he felt that the Russians had been punished enough thanks to the limited Russian attendance in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang.
But according to WADA, the reinstating of RUSADA was necessary in order to get access to the Russian samples. And the lack of understanding made the former president of the agency, IOC member Richard Pound, compare the critics to ‘a lynching mob’ which in his view only tried to divide the world of anti-doping in order to take over the power.
Michael Ask was one of the WADA critics. Today he has changed his opinion:
“WADA must be praised for getting access to the lab in Moscow and at last securing the Russian doping samples. It is no secret that we had different opinions – also among the national anti-doping agencies – on whether it was the right step at the right moment or not,” he says.
“But the controversy was in my eyes grounded in a lack of communication from WADA about the move more than in the tactical move itself. WADA should have done more to explain why it was more important to get access to the lab than getting an official Russian apology from Putin. That will never happen. We all know that. It is easy to be wise in hindsight. But we can all learn from the Russian case. And today I believe that WADA did the right thing under the circumstances.”
Michael Ask also believes that WADA has learned that the agency has to improve its communication in the future. And to the question of what iNADO has learned from the Russian case, he answers:
“It is the first time one of our own members, RUSADA, has been on the scaffold. That has made us more aware of the risk of having an iNADO opinion in individual cases. We shall hold on to our guiding principles of independence and good governance, but be careful with our comments on individual WADA decisions.”
WADA is inhibited by its structure
In his new role as chairman of iNADO, Michael Ask will try to give the institute a stronger voice and promote a greater influence for national anti-doping organisations in the international anti-doping world.
“The national anti-doping agencies are responsible for 80 percent of the world’s anti-doping work, so it is only natural that we as an independent interest group with a very large amount of knowledge and expertise want to take part in decisions about the direction of WADA. And it is also my impression that WADA wants to strengthen the role of iNADO in the ruling bodies of the agency,” he says.
But even though WADA has promised representatives of national anti-doping organisations a seat in all its standing committees and it is his ambition for iNADO to be the closest partner for WADA in the future, Michael Ask is not blind to fact that both the IOC and the governments might be in opposition to his ambition.
“We are aware of a restraint in the IOC and other sports organisations, but to a certain degree also in our own governments, who perhaps feel that we are taking some of the power away from them,” he says.
“But to me, it is a clear advantage for both the IOC and the governments that we, who are working with anti-doping every day, thanks to our knowledge, expertise and independence are given a stronger role in WADA. We all know that politics is an issue when some of the big players in sport, like Russia, are involved. In these cases everyone can see that WADA has problems, because the agency is inhibited by its own structure.”
Nevertheless, both the IOC and the governments are still the core of WADA. And as iNADO is trying to get more influence in the agency, Michael Ask is aware of the risk that his ambitions of a stronger iNADO and an independent WADA might cause new sports political controversies.
“Perhaps, but that is not the signals I receive from neither WADA’s president Craig Reedie nor the coming president of the agency, Witold Banka,” he argues.
“My main goal is to unite iNADO, WADA, the international federations and the International Testing Agency, ITA, in order to bring anti-doping to the next level, where countries in need will receive help from countries with good anti-doping records.”
Solidarity and corporate responsibility
According to Michael Ask, iNADO and WADA are negotiating their new development plan later this year. And he does not see any challenges in finding the necessary project money in WADA and the national anti-doping organisations.
“But, there are also other economic resources in the world of sport. Witold Banka’s suggestion of a solidarity fund is a really good idea, and if sponsors and broadcasters in sport would give just a small percentage of the money they use on sport to anti-doping, we would be able to do much more,” he says.
“Today, everybody is talking about corporate social responsibility. In that perspective, it would be a good story for a multimedia company in the sports business to be able to say that the company also takes a responsibility for supporting anti-doping work. Anti-doping is in everybody’s interest.”
For the same reason, Michael Ask would like to see that the responsibility for investigating doping offences and other crimes against integrity in sport to a much higher degree was left to independent actors outside sport like the police.
“In some countries we already have a very good cooperation between the police and the national anti-doping authorities. We are now hiring more and more employees with experience from intelligence work and other analytical police methods, because we to a great extend use the same methods in anti-doping. To give an example, whistleblowers in sport should not be interviewed by amateurs. These people have a lot at stake and they must be treated in a professional and secure environment,” he says.
“But our cooperation with the police can without doubt be even better than it is now. And at some point we should also start to talk about creating a new agency like WADA that could oversee match-fixing and corruption in sport.”
In sport's own interest
In general, Michael Ask sees a political will to disclose these sports related crimes. But he would like the sports organisations to play a more active role when it comes to giving up some of their responsibilities and leave the detection and judgements of these matters to independent actors.
“Sports organisations have a huge power and political influence. And to me, their reluctance to give up power only seems to be grounded in a fear of losing control over their own sport. But in my eyes, letting independent actors take over the control of these areas is also in sport's own interest,” Ask says.
“The sports organisations would look a lot better to the public without any suspicion of conflicts of interest. By giving up power in this area, they could no longer be accused of being corrupt or in other ways trying to affect the outcome of the cases.”