These are testing times in the fight to keep sport clean, with a number of leading athletes seemingly pitted against the organization that’s responsible for looking after anti-doping.
On Wednesday an emergency anti-doping summit in Washington called for reform of the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) because “athletes and sports fans across the globe” had lost confidence in the organization in the wake of the Russian doping scandal. Two days earlier, leaders of 18 national anti-doping organizations had also called for WADA reform.
That’s drawn a withering response from WADA president Sir Craig Reedie, who suggested the United States anti-doping agency (USADA) should address its own weaknesses.
“It is quite clearly an opportunity for lots of people to make statements in public they like doing,” Reedie told CNN’s Amanda Davies on Thursday.
In the face of condemnation from athletes and prominent officials, WADA lifted a three-year ban on Russia’s anti-doping agency (RUSADA) in September despite it not having met all 31 of the necessary criteria.
The meeting in Washington was hosted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and USADA and was attended by athletes, sports bodies and representatives of governments from around the world.
USADA chief executive Travis T. Tygart, who was instrumental in bringing down Lance Armstrong, said Wednesday that WADA needed to “wake up and smell the coffee.”
“Travis for years has been singing the same hymn, foxes guarding hen houses — that is simply not true,” said Reedie in response.
“He seems to have a personal campaign to be as difficult as he can be as far as Russia is concerned, maybe that’s a personal feeling.
“At the moment, in this complex political situation we’re in, the US is very keen to state its point of view when the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily agree with it [so] maybe a combination of the two.
“But he’s got his own challenges. All of the top sport in America, in the main, is not compliant,” added Reedie, referring to sports such as the NFL.
“Why doesn’t he go and speak to the players unions and maybe get them to try and agree that clean sport the world over would be better if some of the professional leagues became compliant with the world anti-doping code.
“It’s difficult, I know. I’ve spoken to the NFL people myself … it’s not going to be easy but somebody should start trying to do it.”
‘Closer to Russian anti-doping rehabilitation’
Reedie told reporters at a symposium in London that the decision to reinstate RUSADA was a “democratic, transparent and accountable process” and was the “right one for clean sport.”
“No one can deny that we are closer now to ensuring the rehabilitation of Russian anti-doping, and to providing a credible and sustainable program in that country,” he said.
Reinstating RUSADA had not, said Reedie, changed the fact that Russia was still allowed to compete internationally, while banned Russian athletes remained banned from competition.
“The only difference it makes to have RUSADA compliant now is the strict conditions we have attached to it, namely Russia must provide us with access to the data from the Moscow laboratory so we can prosecute the cheats and we can exonerate those who did not cheat and who competed clean,” he added.
A number of athletes have become more vocal on WADA reform. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, tweeted about Wednesday’s summit: “It’s great to see the athletes involved and their voices heard! It’s time for a reformed WADA and now.”
Five-time Olympic champion Katie Ledecky submitted a video statement for the summit. On Twitter the American swimmer later said: “We need a truly independent international anti-doping regulator free of conflicts of interests.”
American runner Emma Coburn, who won gold in the 3,000 meter steeplechase at the 2017 World Championships, said: “WADA has failed the athletes. It has bullied and disheartened athlete voices. This is the very organization that’s supposed to protect us.”
British cyclist Callum Skinner, who was in attendance at the White House, said WADA had put “autocracy over accountability and politics over principle.”
Reedie responded: “We have a little bit of an athlete problem as there are two opinions between athletes.
“One is represented perhaps by Callum and people who are on one athlete committee, and another who serve on the IOC [International Olympic Committee] athletes committee. We are intensely keen on enhanced athletic representation but we have to deal with all athletes.
“It’s important now that the Callum Skinners of this world and the other athletes get together and decide how they would like to be represented and once they’ve done that then we will meet as many of these suggestions as we can.”
The reforms the White House summit called for included an inquiry into claims of bullying at the organization, an overhaul of the way in which WADA — which receives half of its $34 million budget from national governments and half from the Olympics — is governed and for the voice of athletes to be listened to.
In a statement, a list of the reforms that WADA needed to undertake were published:
- Govern and operate in respectful, accountable, democratic, and transparent manner.
- Include athletes as full voting members on its Executive Committee and in other essential governance functions.
- A robust independent inquiry to examine WADA’s culture, leadership and operations following the recent allegations of bullying and acts of intimidation at WADA.
- Individuals with active roles in sport must not simultaneously serve in leadership positions at WADA.
- An open and transparent process regarding securing all of the anti-doping samples and laboratory data in Russia, making a recommendation immediately after the December 31, 2018 deadline for compliance.
WADA had issued a statement saying they were not invited to the meeting, but Tygart responded by saying the world anti-doping body had been invited.
“There is nothing remotely one-sided about having the world’s athletes, national anti-doping leaders, government ministers and other clean sport champions at an emergency summit to drive reform of WADA,” said Tygart in a statement published on Twitter Wednesday.
“WADA leadership, along with the IOC, are increasingly isolated with athletes and public opinion. They need to wake up and smell the coffee, step out from their ivory tower because athletes are demanding change and change is coming.”