PtG Comment 27.06.2018

Norwegian WADA Vice President Linda Helleland steps up fight for top job in WADA

Analysis: The race for the seat as WADA president has begun. At a conference in Oslo this week, Norwegian Linda Hofstad Helleland kicked off her campaign. Some of the loudest critics of the current anti-doping system seem to support her.

Grand Hotel, Oslo (Play the Game): Will WADA’s next President seek a greater independence from the Olympic movement? If the chosen candidate is WADA’s current Vice-President and Norwegian Minister of Children and Equality, Linda Hofstad Helleland, the answer is a clear yes. That was the unmistakable message when Helleland started her campaign at an anti-doping conference in a fashionable Oslo hotel on Monday, 25 June.

In her earlier capacity as Minister of Culture of Norway with responsibility for sport, Linda Hofstad Helleland was elected WADA Vice-President in November 2016. If she succeeds, she will replace the Scotsman Sir Craig Reedie, whose term comes to an end in November 2019.

Reedie was re-elected WADA President for a second three-year term in 2016 despite criticism of his handling of the Russian doping scandal. When the scandal broke, Reedie was also the Vice-President of the IOC Executive Board and was accused of sitting on both sides of the table on integrity issues.

Among his critics are Helleland, who repeated her promise to make the international anti-doping work more independent from sports federations when speaking at the Grand Hotel in Oslo.

The conference that served as her platform was co-hosted and financed by three organisations: World Forum for Ethics in Business & Art of Living, founded by the Indian Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar; Fairsport, headed by the former Olympic Champion and founder of Right to Play, Johann Olav Koss; and Anti-Doping Norway.

The three host organisations presented a strong group of speakers, most of them, not surprisingly, supporting the work of Linda Hofstad Helleland and her candidacy for WADA President.

In his speech, Travis Tygart, CEO US Anti-Doping Agency, told the audience that WADA is controlled by sport and has an interest in not exposing its partners.

“At the moment, the sport itself is running the work on anti-doping, and they are doomed to failure,” Tygart said. “The silver lining is Helleland stepping up.”

The conference began with the head of Anti-Doping Norway Anders Solheim and Travis Tygart signing an anti-doping agreement between Anti-Doping Norway and USADA in the presence of the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who opened the conference.

The Norwegian government and USADA clearly have an intention to stay together until a new WADA President is elected in Warsaw, Poland, in November next year. The agreement between the two anti-doping organisations seemed to have been put together on short notice, we were not informed about the content of the agreement during the conference.

What sort of government representative will lead WADA?

The WADA presidency rotates between government representatives and sports movement representatives and with Helleland’s declared mission to strengthen the role of the governments, her candidacy is believed to be opposed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who has a tradition of lobbying to secure that governments choose a candidate that is acceptable for the Olympic movement.

In a panel debate, the views of the IOC were expressed by former IOC member Gerhard Heiberg, who defended the sports movement and was clearly in disagreement with Linda Helleland on several issues. He also fired back on those (i.e. journalists and government officials) continuously  blaming the IOC for its failure in anti-doping and questioned the integrity and competence of many of its critics.

Helleland strongly attacked sports federations for their resistance to more independent anti-doping bodies, WADA and CAS in their ruling of the many Russian cases during the past year, while Heiberg defended the acts of the IOC and laid the responsibility on the sports federations.

Being in Oslo at this conference must be seen as an embrace of the candidacy of Linda Helleland as the new WADA President. The German journalist Hajo Seppelt, in a short speech from the floor, said he supported Helleland’s work in the WADA so far, and that her work would help to solve the old problem of conflict of interests in the international anti-doping work. Many of the participants expressed the same feeling.

David Howman, the former General Director of WADA for 13 years and, from 2016, Chair of the Athletics Integrity Unit, has earlier been praising the work of Helleland in WADA, for instance her initiative ‘One Voice’, aiming to help governments coordinate their policy inside WADA. He repeated this in Oslo.

Among the speakers at the conference in Oslo were also Member of WADA’s Athlete Committee Andreanne Morin, Professor Ulrich Haas, Arbitrator at CAS (and defending the role of CAS), Professor Richard McLaren, and the CEO of FairSport, the former Olympian and member of the IOC’s Executive Committee Claudia Bokel.

All of them called for big changes in the work against doping, and from the audience it was appreciated that the debates in the panels were livelier than they use to be in conferences like this. However, the conference could have been more interactive. No questions from the floor were allowed.

Resistance form the sports movement

On several occasions, Linda Hofstad Helleland has said that she already met significant resistance inside the sports movement after announcing that she would run for WADA President, and that some of the central actors in the sports movement are using dirty tricks to make life harder for her as a WADA campaigner. She expects that the battle will be both hard and dirty.

To the Norwegian press she has said that there are opposing forces, most of them old men sitting behind closed doors, shaking their heads and wanting her to fail, and that the old guard inside sports and the Olympic movement feel threatened by her call for independence, transparency and democracy in the anti-doping work.

In Oslo there was no representation of international sports leaders. Either they were not invited to Oslo to prevent them from spoiling Helleland’s release party or they stayed away afraid of being affiliated to her campaign.

That may be a sign of how worried some leaders in international sports are by a contender from the outside who they cannot control, and it is probably also a sign that Helleland is regarded a serious contender for the top post in the international work against doping.