While it is not my normal practice to conduct discussions in the media, the comments made this week and published in Around the Rings, by my International Olympic Committee-colleague Gerardo Werthein, require a response.
I am baffled to, still, read views to the effect that WADA’s Independent McLaren Investigation and WADA’s reaction to its Report was ‘the problem’; versus, the Agency being congratulated for its handling of the ‘true problem’, which was proven State manipulation of the doping control process involving the Russian Government and the Moscow Laboratory. In May, Professor Richard McLaren was asked to investigate and report on allegations featured by the New York Times and 60 Minutes when they came to light in May, which he did in just under two months.
Professor McLaren’s Report, which was published on 18 July, revealed that this program of State manipulation went beyond what was initially exposed by these news agencies to involve, not only Russian Winter sports from the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games but also Russian Summer Olympic Sports. With revelations of this scale, WADA, as the global regulatory body governing anti-doping, had no other alternative than to recommend as it did that the Sports Movement decline entries to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
As I have addressed on a number of occasions, including during the IOC Session held before the Rio Olympic Games, WADA simply did not have actionable evidence to deal with this abuse until the former Moscow laboratory director, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov – who had been interviewed several times by the Independent Commission, led by Richard Pound, without providing any evidence – brought that evidence forward in May. While WADA did have discussions with whistleblowers as early as 2010, it took almost four years for the whistleblowers to develop and provide the corroborated evidence that any investigation would require to proceed. Once WADA had that evidence in hand in December 2014, the Agency immediately launched the Pound Commission in January 2015 when it acquired the legal authority to do so under the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code.
And so we can see that, once WADA had the necessary investigatory powers, the Agency used those powers responsibly and effectively by establishing the Pound Commission and then the McLaren Investigation.
As a result of the McLaren revelations in July 2016, it was unavoidable that this major issue had to be confronted on the eve of the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Let me be clear: WADA cannot be held responsible for Russian doping breaches. WADA, in fact, did the right thing. These two investigations revealed – for the first time – the necessary evidence to allow the necessary sanctions to be imposed.
The IOC decided to determine eligibility for the Rio Games on a different set of criteria involving decisions to be taken by International Federations. This was not the recommendation of the WADA Executive Committee – but a decision it was and the Games went on.
The public debate that ensued has resulted in various demands to review the structure and processes of WADA and how the anti-doping movement can be strengthened. WADA is comfortable that this process should take place and; in fact, this article is being written during the first in a series of WADA “Think Tanks” being held in Lausanne.
There is no doubt that, over the last 17 years, WADA has developed an extensive and collaborative anti-doping system in collaboration with its partners – with endorsement by 98% of the Governments of the world under the UNESCO Convention against Doping in Sport – and has led many of the developments in anti-doping. All of this has been done with an equal partnership between Sport and Government. Sport has 50% of the seats on both the Executive Committee and the Foundation Board of WADA. This balance of representation has delivered a situation where the great majority of the world has rules that are compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code. There is also an external Independent Compliance Committee in place whose role is to oversee delivery of robust anti-doping programs worldwide.
As it relates to where WADA’s headquarters are located, it has been located in Montreal for many years with the European Regional Office in Lausanne working almost exclusively with the Sports Movement – a collaboration that, we are told, is very highly regarded by the International Federations that benefit.
The structure of WADA governance provides for equal representation of both sport and government that has worked well for many years. The basis of any organization to protect clean athletes is a fully independent organization recognized by all with the sufficient resources to develop and deliver its mandate.
The current debate is an opportunity to strengthen WADA, and de facto the global anti-doping system. Today’s Think Tank dealt with key issues including: preventing corruption and bribery practices in the anti-doping process; implementing consequences of non-compliance; and, reviewing WADA’s governance and funding structure. It was encouraging to hear from IOC representatives during the meeting that the Olympic movement has no intention to dilute WADA but rather a willingness to reinforce its independence and regulatory powers.
I sincerely hope that many other constructive contributions will be made by other stakeholders; and, that the results of the debate will serve to strengthen the anti-doping system and WADA, the independent agency that is best equipped to continue as the leader of clean sport.