WADA President calls for unity of the anti-doping community at Annual Symposium

Witold Banka Annual Symposium

Today, the President of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Witold Bańka, called for a strengthening of the United Nations Education Science and Culture Organization’s (UNESCO’s) International Convention Against Doping in Sport, in order to hold to account Governments with weak anti-doping policies, just like athletes and Anti-Doping Organizations are held to account under the World Anti-Doping Code (Code).

Mr. Bańka opened the two-day 2023 WADA Annual Symposium in Lausanne, Switzerland, which has attracted more than 1,000 participants (around 850 in person and 150 virtually) from the global anti-doping community, under this year’s theme ’United Toward a World of Doping-Free Sport’.

The UNESCO Convention is the multilateral treaty, adopted in 2005, that formally commits Governments to align their domestic policies with the Code. It is meant to help in holding Governments to a high anti-doping standard. The Convention calls on states to adopt national measures to eliminate doping and harmonize anti-doping rules internationally, in order to provide a fair playing environment for all athletes.

In delivering his keynote speech, Mr. Bańka said the UNESCO Convention needed to be strengthened. He said: “The Convention does not have an effective enforcement mechanism so violating it has virtually no consequences. Even Russia has remained a compliant state party despite WADA revealing an extensive institutionalized doping program in that country and despite the Court of Arbitration for Sport acknowledging the active role of the Russian Government in the doping scandal. How is this possible? UNESCO must hold resistant Governments to account and protect other Governments and their athletes from those who violate the rules. We would like to see UNESCO’s focus be directed towards improving the Convention.

“Athletes deserve a Convention that works – so I call on all Governments and National Anti-Doping Organizations to push UNESCO and their Conference of Parties to focus on the right priorities. We must come together to strengthen the global system that we have all worked so hard to build.”

Taking place today and tomorrow, the 17th WADA Annual Symposium brings together anti-doping practitioners from International Federations, National and Regional Anti-Doping Organizations and Major Event Organizations, as well as athletes, Governments, WADA-accredited laboratories, Athlete Passport Management Units, service providers, researchers, and international media. The program includes a total of 22 informative and interactive sessions on a wide range of topics, including today, a session to raise awareness of decision makers regarding the importance of intelligence and investigations in the protection of clean sport, a session regarding human rights and its intersection with anti-doping policy, as well as Q&A sessions with WADA’s Independent Ethics Board and, later, WADA’s President, Vice-President and Director General.

Tomorrow, the Symposium will touch on topics such as the Athlete Biological Passport, the Athletes’ Anti-Doping Ombuds Program, education, privacy, governmental accountability and many other interesting subjects.

Mr. Bańka’s keynote address set the tone by reflecting on some of WADA’s achievements delivered during his first three-year term as President, as well as what he intends to accomplish in his second term, which began in January.

Mr. Bańka said: “Closely collaborating with Vice-President Yang Yang, our first term was busy and challenging but I believe it was also very successful. WADA is unquestionably a more modern, independent and athlete-focused organization than at any time since its establishment in 1999. This is due in large part to our 2020-2024 Strategic Plan that places athletes at the center, and also to the major governance reforms that are delivering a shift towards greater independence and more representation for athletes and National Anti-Doping Organizations.

“What we have to do now as a global anti-doping community is to keep raising the game for athletes. We must innovate to find new and more effective methods, both in the areas of detection and prevention. For this to happen we must be united and work together for the common goal. We are constantly developing new strategies and tools for our daily work. However, there is still much to be done. The only way to do that is by joining forces and working closely together. We need to be united as one ‘Play True’ team.”

WADA Director General Olivier Niggli presented an update on WADA’s governance reforms and brought stakeholders up to speed on the Agency’s main activities, including providing a status update on the ongoing delivery of WADA’s 2020-2024 Strategic Plan. He said: “It has been almost 24 years since the creation of WADA and together with the anti-doping community, substantial progress has been made in that time. We have seen tangible results, particularly in the areas of investigations, education and compliance monitoring. WADA has also bolstered its scientific research funding and has led innovation in the area of testing and artificial intelligence.

“But, as we all know, doping in sport is complex and there are increasingly sophisticated means being used by people to cheat. As we look forward, the 2027 Code and Standards update will give us yet another valuable opportunity to work together to push through more improvements and aim for more efficiency. Harmonization, innovation and unity are the three key words to our delivering a global anti-doping system that athletes deserve.

“In the coming year and beyond, we will continue to ensure that athletes remain at the core of everything we do, as demonstrated through initiation of a Human Rights Impact Assessment, the Athletes’ Anti-Doping Ombuds Program, and the formation of a new 20-member Athlete Council, which meets in person for the first time in Lausanne on Thursday.”

WADA Vice-President Yang Yang also played an important role on the first day of the Symposium. Beyond participating in the Q&A session with Mr. Bańka and Mr. Niggli, she was a panelist on a session that focused on how the community could support clean athletes by addressing the athlete entourage.

Ms. Yang said: “Education remains the best long-term solution to protect the values of clean sport. It is a critical component of the global anti-doping system. More and more, we are seeing the real results that education delivers in preventing doping and supporting athletes in their efforts to compete clean throughout their careers. This is a key part of our mission to be athlete centered.

“All athletes can be vulnerable, and they must be provided with the right tools while they are still young in order to protect themselves. With some high-quality, values-based education behind them, they can proceed with confidence, feeling supported and proud that they are doing their bit to keep sport clean. However, education is not limited to athletes – we must also consider the role of their entourage. By educating the entourage, the values of clean competition will filter down to the athlete. WADA is tasked with protecting athletes from the unscrupulous forces that may surround them, while also helping them identify dishonest behaviors and push back against coaches who do not prioritize their welfare. We must continue to commit resources to bringing dishonest coaches and doctors to justice under the World Anti-Doping Code and preventing the entourage from having a negative impact on athletes’ lives.”

Note to editors:

Please find below images from both days of the Symposium. These are rights-free for editorial purposes with the appropriate credit (WADA).