WADA President intensifies athlete engagement initiatives

The World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) President, Witold Bańka, has kickstarted a series of meetings with athletes and athlete groups, following up on his personal pledge to engage meaningfully with the athlete community and on WADA’s overall commitment to being more athlete-centered as outlined within the Agency’s recently published Five-Year Strategic Plan.

Witold Bańka, a former international-level 400-meter runner from Poland who became WADA President on 1 January, started a series of meetings with individual athletes and athlete groups and associations that represent different sports, regions of the world and perspectives. Given current limitations brought about by COVID-19, this includes virtual calls with athletes that are already within the Agency’s governance structure; calls with a range of athlete commissions; and, many other virtual opportunities that will present themselves. Once COVID-19 restrictions lift, face-to-face discussions will be held.

The WADA President said: “Last week, WADA announced its new Strategic Plan that will guide the Agency’s activity over the next five years. At the core of this plan is a desire and commitment to ensure that our activities and priorities are athlete centered. As a former elite athlete, I understand the importance of listening to the views of athletes worldwide and addressing the matters that are of most interest to them. The Agency will be looking for every opportunity to engage with them to further enhance the global anti-doping system. Over the last months, I have personally met with many of the athletes that sit on our Foundation Board, Executive Committee, Athlete Committee and expert committees. I will continue this engagement and much more throughout my presidency.

“I have also decided that, starting with September’s Executive Committee meeting, WADA will have a dedicated agenda item on athletes’ matters during each Executive Committee and Foundation Board meeting, which will be in addition to the report by the Agency’s Athlete Committee Chair. This will allow for better reporting to our stakeholders about initiatives being carried out in this regard.”

WADA’s new Strategic Plan, which is themed ‘Leading Anti-Doping in a New Era’, has six strategic priorities – one of which is to ‘be athlete-centered’. This priority involves WADA engaging and empowering athletes to contribute to the development of anti-doping policies; building an easier anti-doping journey for athletes; and, increasing the contribution that our programs deliver for athletes and their entourage so that they can build healthy and sustainable careers in sport. A key initiative to delivering on this priority is to develop and promote new communication mechanisms to seek athletes’ views and address their feedback, which is exactly what WADA’s President has embarked upon.

The other seven key initiatives, which are part of the ‘be athlete-centered’ priority of WADA’s Five-Year Plan, are to:

  1. Engage and empower athletes to contribute to the development of anti-doping policies;
  2. Design a comprehensive athlete pathway that will prioritize anti-doping resources, with a focus on young athletes;
  3. Tap into data about athletes and their entourage/support group to detect patterns and predict behaviors in order to provide relevant information and better programs;
  4. Identify vulnerable athlete groups to connect, support and recommend appropriate interventions;
  5. Establish an education framework for stakeholders to educate athletes and their entourage/support group;
  6. Facilitate easy access to useful and relevant anti-doping information for athletes and their entourage/support group; and
  7. Ensure WADA digital tools and user experience are intuitive, modern, functional and accessible.