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  • Anti-Doping Summit Rankles Establishment


    (ATR) Athletes, government officials, and anti-doping agencies seeking reform of the World Anti-Doping Agency met at the White House for an “emergency summit” today.

    Participants at the summit voiced their displeasure with WADA’s handling of reinstating Russia into the global anti-doping framework. WADA’s executive committee voted to declare Russia conditionally compliant during a meeting in September. 

    The Anti-Doping Summit at the White House (ONDCP/Twitter)
    The summit was convened by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which funds the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Dubbing themselves “The Reformers,” the summit focused largely on alternative ideas for the ongoing WADA reformation process.

    WADA began a governance review process in 2017, and is expected to vote on reforms at its foundation board meeting November 15 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

    After the Washington summit, "The Reformers" released a statement that outlined five points it believed were necessary for true reforms in the anti-doping movement.

    -WADA must commit to govern and operate in respectful, accountable, democratic, and transparent manner.

    -WADA must undertake greater efforts to listen to and respect the voice of athletes. WADA must include athletes as full voting members on its Executive Committee and in other essential governance functions.

    -Call for a robust independent inquiry to examine WADA’s culture, leadership and operations following the recent allegations of bullying and acts of intimidation at WADA.

    -The governance structure of WADA must be overhauled in a significant and meaningful way. Individuals with active roles in sport must not simultaneously serve in leadership positions at WADA.

    -WADA must ensure an open and transparent process regarding securing all of the anti-doping samples and laboratory data in Russia and the WADA Compliance Review Committee must convene and make a recommendation immediately after the December 31, 2018 deadline for compliance.

    WADA Strikes Back on Meeting

    WADA confirmed that it was not invited to attend the summit in Washington, D.C. However, vice president Linda Helleland and athletes commission chair Becky Scott attended in personal capacities.

    Helleland is running to be WADA’s next president, and Scott recently resigned as part of the WADA compliance committee after it crafted a plan to conditionally declare Russia compliant of the WADA code.

    “It certainly seems that the only ones invited are those that are now questioning WADA’s governance because they are not in agreement with the democratic decision that WADA’s Executive Committee took concerning RUSADA’s reinstatement,” a WADA spokesperson said in a statement. “We welcome debate on this issue and we promote people's right to discuss and push for reforms. But unfortunately, it would seem as though only one side of the story was heard in Washington today.”

    USADA chief executive Travis Tygart released a statement saying that “WADA was invited hence” the attendance of Helleland, Beckie Scott, and WADA Executive Committee members Edwin Moses and Clayton Cosgrove.

    Moses is chair of USADA and a member of the WADA education committee, which allows him to attend WADA Executive Committee meetings. Clayton Cosgrove is a former member of parliament from New Zealand and was previously on WADA’s Executive Committee and Foundation board as a representative from the Oceania region.

    “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,” Tygart said in a statement. “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.”

    The ONDCP confirmed on its Twitter account that 14 athletes participated in the event, including Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova. Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States sent government and anti-doping officials to the summit, which was organized by the ONDCP.

    ONDCP Deputy Director James Carroll told reporters in attendance that the U.S. withdrawing its funding from WADA would be “an issue of last resort”. Half of WADA’s budget is funded by the IOC and the other half from governments around the world.

    “We’re not looking to dissolve WADA at all,” Carroll said as reported by the AP. “What we’re trying to do here today is to begin that dialogue to lay the steps to go to them as a united front.”

    Athletes Speak Out

    Athletes in attendance took to social media to laud the initiative and thank the summit for allowing their voices to be heard in the process.

    “WADA has failed the athletes,” Emma Coburn, American bronze medalist in the 3000m steeplechase at Rio 2016, said during the summit. “It has bullied and disheartened athlete voices. This is the very organization that’s supposed to protect us!”

    Callum Skinner, a British gold medal winning cyclist at Rio 2016 said that WADA put “autocracy over accountability, and politics over principle” in its decision to reinstate Russia despite athlete protestation.

    “Athletes have woken up and found voice,” Skinner said. “It’s up to WADA and IOC to start listening and act.”

    Ali Jawad, British Paralympic powerlifter and Rio 2016 silver medalist, has been circulating a new set of reforms for WADA called “The Alternative: Reforming WADA’s Governance for a New Anti-Doping Age”. He has also been circulating a petition to get WADA to listen to more athlete-led reforms in its governance review.

    He told ATR that he was not at the White House summit, but called the exercise “the perfect platform for the athlete voice to be heard”. 

    “WADA for so long has tried to silence us, but the athlete voice since the reinstatement of Russia has been unprecedented,” Jawad said. “We still have a long way to go for change, but we will keep fighting our rights to compete clean.”

    Written by Aaron Bauer

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