19 January 2015

The WADA Interview: Valérie Fourneyron

Trained physician and former Minister of Sports, Valérie Fourneyron is not just any politician. Her passion for sports and health is what drove her into politics. Play True met with Mrs. Fourneyron to discuss her new role at WADA and the fresh challenges that await the anti-doping community in the months and years ahead.



Your term of office as President of the Health, Medical & Research (HMR) Committee began this month. Your scientific background and in-depth knowledge of doping made you a natural favorite for this position. What’s your view on this?

VF: Nice of you to say! Keeping sport clean has been the backbone of my personal, professional and political career. When I started medical school, I had my eye on practising sports medicine. I therefore focused all energies on studying  this medical specialty, which was quite uncommon at the time. I have worked with a great number of athletes and high-level teams in volleyball, hockey and basketball. Through it all, I have never steered away from the idea that sports are for everyone, whether for having fun or staying healthy.

In 1989, I had my first experience at the Ministry of Sports. I was put in charge of restructuring the organization of sports medicine in France. During this period I worked on the drafting of Bill 89[1], which introduced prevention and education into French legislation. It is thanks to this Bill that doping measures fall under the jurisdiction of the sports movement rather than the courts. Back then, in 1988, Ben Johnson's case had quite an impact and we had to adapt the law.

My experience at the Ministry gave me the opportunity to advance my work in tracking high-level athletes, their preparation, and also my work in doping and in the implementation of prevention policies. Then, in 1995, I started getting involved in politics alongside my professional career. Sports and health were therefore my gateway to politics. I started off as Assistant Deputy of Sports of my city, then of my region, before becoming Deputy and Mayor of Rouen, the capital of Upper Normandy. In 2012, all this led me to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, as well as to the position of representative of the Council of Europe within WADA's Executive Committee, in which I was very involved. The presidency of the HMR Committee is, in a way, at the heart of both my professional career and my experience in sports diplomacy. I feel that this nomination bridges these two career paths.

Your predecessor, Professor Arne Ljungqvist, was considered by many to be one of the giants of anti-doping - what are your thoughts on what he was able to achieve?

VF: Arne was, and still is, an essential figure in the fight against doping. I believe that the richness of his character, both human and scientific, his vast knowledge of the world of sports and his experiences within the IAAF and the IOC Medical Commission have given him the recognition he deserves. It was very important to me to have his support, and to really listen and be able to benefit from his advice. I believe it is our duty to learn from others, no matter what their background.

This is the first time that the president of the Health, Medical & Research Committee (HMRC) has not been a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) - what are your views on this?

VF: One of WADA's strengths is the balance it is able to strike between government and sports-movement representatives. It is the agency's greatest feature: shared funding and alternating governance. It is important to work together for the common good with the aim of protecting sports ethics and keeping athletes clean.

WADA's Science Department touches upon the essence of the Agency's mission: laboratory accreditation, the List of Prohibited Methods and Substances, the research program. How do you foresee your term of office?

VF: Once again, we have to find the right balance. I will get fully involved in all three of the Committee's missions. It is up to the president to define the strategy, provide direction and be innovative. The scientific organization is productive, run by a team of experts and supported by a high-quality management team. In my opinion, a true presidency must provide orientation and be able to invite the members of the committee to reflect on any progress that benefits doping-free sport and WADA as a whole.

Generally speaking, what challenges await the anti-doping community with the implementation of the revised World Anti-Doping Code?

VF: The major challenge is undoubtedly ensuring compliance with the revised  World Anti-Doping Code at a global level. This applies to all parties having signed UNESCO's International Convention. WADA is the regulatory authority and must work hand in hand with its partners – international federations, governments, laboratories, national and regional anti-doping agencies – in the fight against doping. The end result must respect the three years of high-quality participation from all parties that led up to this revised Code and its new provisions. This includes sanction proportionality, the respect of athletes’ rights, the athletes’ environment, and indirect evidence through the monitoring of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP).

WADA's next president, a few years from now, will be a representative of the public authorities. Would this position interest you?

VF: [Smile] My political career path has definitely not been typical. Passion and commitment drive how I live and what I do. However, I do not write the future. I do not have a career plan, I have never had one. I have been mayor of a regional capital, a member of parliament and minister, and I see these experiences as opportunities, responsibilities and honours. Today, I do not have any set goals. When I was minister and found out that there was an opening for representative of the Council of Europe within WADA's Executive Committee, I was interested by the position. An opportunity came up, things worked out and I really enjoyed it. I am confident that my term as president of the HMR Committee will be equally inspiring. Who knows what the future holds.