Statement by WADA President on the politicization of anti-doping in the United States

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Yesterday, the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing titled “Examining Anti-Doping Measures in Advance of the 2024 Olympics”. Despite the title, the relevant organizations with responsibility for the anti-doping program during the Olympic Games were not invited. Instead, its focus was on a no-fault contamination case from 2021 involving 23 swimmers from the People’s Republic of China.  

The hearing sought to further politicize a relatively straightforward case of mass contamination that has been turned into a scandal by a small number of individuals, mainly in the United States. It was another example of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) being dragged into a much broader struggle between two superpowers. As an independent and largely technical organization, WADA has no mandate to be part of those political debates. 

For this reason, and because we did not want to risk prejudicing the ongoing independent review of WADA’s handling of the case in question, the decision was taken not to send a representative to Washington D.C. this week. 

WADA’s job as the global regulator for clean sport is to strive to ensure that athletes of the world enjoy the same protections, rights and responsibilities whether they are from Boston or Beijing. When we review cases, we must always think about what is fair to those athletes, whatever their sport and whatever their nationality. 

Conversely, the hearing in Washington D.C. was filled with the sort of emotional and political rhetoric that makes headlines but in fact does nothing constructive to strengthen the global anti-doping system. The talk, led by Travis Tygart of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), was all about how other countries and WADA were not playing by the rules. Given what we know about the anti-doping system within the U.S., one can’t help but think about the words of the American politician, Adlai E. Stevenson: “A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation.” 

To this day, 90% of athletes in the U.S. do not enjoy the protections provided by the World Anti-Doping Code (Code). That is because the main professional leagues and college associations refuse to be brought in under the system overseen there by the USADA.  

Even the remaining 10% of athletes in the U.S. are not receiving the sort of support they deserve, a reality illustrated by the fact that 31% of American athletes under the Code were not sufficiently tested in the 12 month-period prior to the Tokyo Games.  

In 2023, USADA collected 7,773 samples from 3,011 athletes, according to its own annual report. It is quite a disappointing result, considering the country's population, high number of athletes and size of their Olympic team. With twice the budget, USADA collects less than half the number of samples as its counterpart in Germany. The French NADO also collects significantly more samples than USADA with a little more than one-third of the budget. USADA also collected less than the National Anti-Doping Organizations (NADOs) in China, Russia, Italy and Great Britain, as well as three international sports federations. Yet, to distract from its own failings, USADA tries to undermine U.S. athletes’ confidence in the integrity of their rivals overseas. One wonders how USADA uses its annual budget of more than USD 31 million, apart from hiring lobbyists and spending its valuable time attacking WADA and weakening the global anti-doping system.  

The points above have been made directly to USADA but there seems to be little appetite to accept them. They seem unwilling or unable to see that improvements are needed, preferring to criticize and lecture others rather than tending to their own backyard. 

The case of U.S. sprinter Erriyon Knighton, announced last week, is a good example of the double standards. Without commenting on the merits, it is difficult to understand how USADA can declare in a statement that “justice was served” in this case, given it had argued in the hearing that the analytical result was incompatible with meat contamination and had sought a sanction of four years against the athlete. It is particularly intriguing that USADA made this sudden U-turn in its opinion without even having seen the reasoned decision, which is not yet available. I cannot help but wonder what USADA would be saying if this had involved an athlete in China.  

One of the more radical and ill-judged suggestions made by USADA is that the U.S. Government should reduce or withhold its 2024 contribution to WADA. Is this because USADA thinks it will receive the funding instead? Perhaps it is an attempt to make up for the loss of revenue it experienced when UFC refused to work with it anymore and it was unable to close a deal to conduct anti-doping for the horseracing authority. 

In any event, it would be a shame if the U.S. chose not to honor its commitments to the Americas region and pay its agreed share of the annual contribution to WADA’s budget. Naturally, it would come with significant ramifications as the U.S. would immediately lose all positions it currently holds within WADA’s governance structure, including on the Executive Committee. It could also lead to serious consequences for U.S. sport. Ultimately, it would be most harmful to American athletes as a drop in global funding would only serve to weaken the anti-doping system in other parts of the world where their competitors are based.  

In the face of all the aggression and the hypocrisy, WADA will carry on regardless. Our dedicated staff of more than 180 in our headquarters in Montreal, Canada, and other offices around the world, are working hard every day to maintain a level playing field for athletes. One major success of the WADA team has been how WADA handled the Russian doping crisis, which included the largest investigation in the history of sports integrity, ‘Operation LIMS’ that led to suspensions of more than 250 Russian athletes.  

Also, thanks to our cooperation with law enforcement agencies and NADOs in Europe, 300 million doses of anabolic steroids have been seized and prevented from entering the market. Data collected in this project has revealed that the U.S. is one of the world's largest markets for illicit steroids and performance-enhancing drugs.  

There is much to be done together. Despite this, USADA’s attacks on WADA continue. Unfortunately, they do not just harm the global anti-doping system that USADA is bound to uphold; they are also hurting the athletes by undermining their trust in sport. They make athletes question, a month before the world’s biggest sports event, whether the competition is clean. USADA has deviated from its core mandate of managing anti-doping programs in the U.S. to playing politics at the expense of what should be their key stakeholder group, the athletes. They pit American athletes against other nations, dividing them into better and worse, into us and them. So long as I am President, I will push back against anyone who drags WADA into their political games and compromises the system that the global anti-doping community has spent 25 years building together – a system that is designed to serve athletes equally…worldwide.