PtG Article 21.02.2019

Two decades of sport and politics inside WADA

The world of sport is better off with WADA in it than without it, says former WADA president Dick Pound in an interview with Danish newspaper, looking back at achievements and disappointments from the first 20 years of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

This interview was first published in Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on Sunday 17 February and is republished at with permission from the author.

Canadian lawyer Richard W. Pound is often portrayed as the ‘Devil’s Advocate’ in the world of sport. The former WADA-president and longest standing member of the IOC is well-known for his outspoken critique of both the Olympic Movement and its opponents in the anti-doping community.

Pound gave an example of this ability in January when he defended WADA’s strategy in the Russian case of state-sponsored doping against growing criticism from national anti-doping agencies and athletes.

Ever since last September, when WADA’s executive committee lifted the Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s non-compliance, the critics have accused the agency of protecting one of the strongest nations in world sport. But to Pound, the critics failed to understand that WADA’s main goal was to get access to all the relevant data in Russia’s former anti-doping laboratory in Moscow.

In a blog post on, Pound stated that “much of the response to Russia’s failure to provide access to the former Moscow Laboratory data by the deadline (31 December 2018) imposed by WADA has all the elements of a lynch mob” and concluded that “lynch mobs are just that - unruly gangs having a single objective of murdering someone without any due process of justice”.

WADA got access to the Russian data by mid-January. But many WADA critics had already taken offence to Pound’s statements. It did not ease their stance that he reminded them of the fact that WADA has no sanctioning power: Only sports organisations can suspend or expel sports and athletes. Today, Pound says.

“Those who wanted to disregard the process in place tried to position themselves as the ‘real’ leaders of anti-doping and the champions of the athletes. Everyone likes to wrap themselves around the athletes – it draws attention away from their own shortcomings. Those who took time to think before making incendiary statements understood the need for process and that sanctions imposed without the proper process would certainly be overturned by CAS,” says Pound, who headed WADA’s first investigation into the Russian case after it was exposed in a documentary by German broadcaster ARD in December 2014.

The Russian case involves up to 1,000 suspected Russian athletes and is the most challenging case in two decades of anti-doping collaboration between sport and politics. This collaboration began in Lausanne in February 1999 at the first world conference on doping in sport when the creation of WADA was decided in response to the 1998 doping scandal in Tour de France. But it was not an easy job.

“20 years ago, when we spoke of drugs with governmental stakeholders, they thought drugs were marijuana, cocaine and heroin – they had no idea of sports drugs, nor the size of the economics involved,” Dick Pound recollects when looking back at 20 years of sport and politics inside WADA, where he served as president until 2008 and still serves as member of the Foundation Board.

Since then, the agency has developed, in many ways into what the former Olympic swimmer had hoped for when he accepted the position as founding president of WADA.

“In the early days, we made huge progress in drawing the attention of the world to the problem of doping in sport, we assembled a first-class staff, we got the World Anti-Doping Code organized and adopted, we helped with the UNESCO Convention, assisted organizations to understand the Code and their obligations under it, worked out funding formulas for the sport and government stakeholders, developed means to assist smaller countries with their Code compliance and exercised our independent right of appeal when we thought the wrong outcomes had resulted from internal sport processes regarding doping cases.”

But, in some cases, Pound is also disappointed with the way WADA and the global fight against doping in sport have turned out.

“As times goes on, many of the stakeholders have become uncomfortable with our desire to do as much as possible to ensure clean sport. Finances have been too restricted and many stakeholders are concerned with the need to be aggressive in their own anti-doping programs and the follow-up steps needed to pursue suspected doping cases. Stakeholders are unwilling to give WADA the necessary powers to be as effective as possible. It took until 2015 to give WADA the power to conduct its own investigations and it still does not have the power to impose provisional suspensions – all are subject, of course, to appeals to CAS.”

The collective expertise is needed

The former WADA president has no doubt, though, that the world of sport is better off with the agency than without it. Without, sport would be in the same mess that existed before the agency was formed:

“There would be inconsistent rules and enforcement, indifferent testing, insufficient funding, no government involvement and no genuine desire to solve the doping problem. One of the early lessons I learned was that much more was said about clean sport than was done to achieve it. As they say, the sports leaders talked the talk but did not walk the walk. Without WADA, they would continue that conduct, since there was no accountability.”

Looking back at his two decades inside WADA, the Canadian mentions the World Anti-Doping Code and the UNESCO Convention as the two most important achievements:

“The Code and the Convention are the foundation of worldwide anti-doping programs,” Pound says, but he also points to several other positive results:

“Headquarters well away from Lausanne, two very successful investigations and reports regarding Russia, eventually getting the Russian laboratory access and data, recommending that Russia be excluded from the Rio Olympics and, finally, having a Compliance Review Committee to take compliance matters out of reach of political interference or gridlock.”

But politicians hold only half of the power in WADA. When asked if it would be possible to make WADA totally independent of sports organisations, the Canadian says he has never thought that WADA should be ‘totally independent’ of its context, namely sport.

“If sport does not have the required expertise and powers to do what is necessary to have doping-free sport, it can do what it did with the creation of WADA, namely delegate powers to an outside organization, to act on its behalf. But the ultimate responsibility to ensure that doping-free sport can occur is that of the stakeholders, who must all share the commitment – athletes, IFs, NOCs, the IOC and governments, which possess many of the powers that sport organizations lack. We need their collective expertise to design and implement the necessary measures.”

IOC is the biggest disappointment

For the same reasons, Pound counts the IOC’s refusal to follow WADA’s recommendation to suspend Russia from the Rio Olympics among the biggest disappointments in the fight against doping in sport.

“Had the IOC followed the recommendation, there would have been a much more rapid conduct change, not only in Russia but also in many other countries and sports where the anti-doping activities were weak or corrupt.”

IOC president Thomas Bach recently stated that Russia has been sanctioned enough through the suspension of some Russian athletes at the past two Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and Pyeongchang. But to Pound, WADA is doing the right thing trying to analyse all of the Russian athletes’ data in order to find out who doped and who did not.

“The real problem for WADA has been its inability to communicate what it is doing and why it is doing so. There were some unfortunate statements made by the WADA leadership in the early days of the Russian saga which undermined the general confidence, even though the WADA investigations provided compelling evidence of the overall Russian system, first regarding athletics and second, the system as a whole. And the WADA leadership should also have been quicker to refute many of the statements alleging conflicts of interest or poor performance. Remaining silent simply allowed the detractors a free rein to continue the criticism.”

Despite the Russian case, Pound finds that the overall collaboration between sport and politics in the fight against doping in sport has improved significantly during the past 20 years, especially with the WADA Code and the UNESCO Convention in place. But the former WADA president is not blind to challenges:

“The current Russian situation shows the inability of governments to deal with clear violations of the Convention and the unwillingness of the IOC and IFs to discipline Russia in respect of major Code violations – the IOC due to a misguided idea that Russia is too important to be excluded and the IFs because Russia holds so many of their events.”

But the Canadian does not give up. He is old enough to remember that state-sponsored doping did not begin with the current Russian situation. It existed during the USSR and DDR era as well. And to him, no country is so important that it does not have to comply with the rules:

“Don’t forget that we got along without the US in 1980 and without the USSR in 1984.”

Dick Pound celebrates his 77th birthday next month. When asked for how long he intends to play a role in WADA, he says: “As long as I can be useful - and as long as I am appointed to the WADA Foundation Board.”