More style than substance in reforming anti-doping system

Julia Stepanowa spricht auf der USADA-PK im Weißen Haus

White House Summit

More style than substance in reforming anti-doping system

Top athletes, experts and Government representatives have met at the White House to discuss reforming the World Anti-Doping Agency. The event showed how these groups are not going to stand-by and accept flawed governance in sport today, but it was also a missed opportunity to present credible alternatives. Nick Butler and Hajo Seppelt report.

Among the speakers at the White House outlining their lack of faith in a clean sporting system, was Yuliya Stepanova, the Russian middle-distance runner turned whistleblower whose revelations to ARD sparked the whole doping saga in 2014. The White House summit comes in the wake of WADA’s controversial decision to reinstate the Russian Anti-Doping Agency made in September in Seychelles.

Athletes lead calls for change

Stepanova was joined by top US swimmers Katie Ledecky and Lilly King and athletes Alysia Montano and Emma Coburn, as well as others like British cyclist Callum Skinner and Swedish biathlete Sebastian Samuelsson. Germany was represented by fencer Claudia Bokel, a former chair of the International Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission who is now one of the IOC’s most vocal critics.

Mittelstreckenläuferin Julia Stepanowa

Nachdem sie das russische Staatsdoping aufdecken half, musste Mittelstreckenläuferin Julia Stepanowa das Land verlassen. Heute lebt sie in den USA.

“During the past six years, I and my husband [ex-RUSADA employee, Vitaly Stepanov] at times felt like we are not just fighting the corrupt doping system in Russia, but we are also fighting the IOC and WADA,” said Stepanova, who was forced to flee Russia amid threats to her life.

Montano broke down in tears when describing how her career had been affected by rivals who had turned out to be doping. She suggested WADA’s approach had shattered her faith that sporting powerbrokers really care. Others spoke similarly eloquently, and Skinner outlined an alternative system in which unaffiliated athletes are at the centre of a new governance model.

WADA refusing to listen to critics

Events like this are a force for good and should be encouraged rather than opposed. WADA, however, have repeatedly attacked them by claiming athletes are misinformed. They are only considering moderate changes. It is in stark contrast to the way they accepted IOC demands for reform after disagreements between the respective ways they handled Russia before the Rio Olympics.

Only a handful of countries were represented at the White House and there were no athletes from Asia, Africa, Oceania or Latin America. In some of these nations, there is still pressure not to speak out, so silence is not necessarily a sign of disagreement, insiders report.

But the officials accompanying athletes seemed unsure about how much change they really wanted. They stopped short of calling for WADA to be scrapped completely, no doubt mindful that an alternative system would probably be headed by the IOC-controlled International Testing Agency. They also refrained from proposing a new funding model in which NADOs and an athletes’ group like the World Players Association would contribute. As it stands, sport and Governments finance WADA 50 per cent apiece and the two sides use this as an excuse to protect their political control.

More style than substance?

There was an element of grandstanding: flying a group of people at great expense to a prestigious location to make the same points made many times before. WADA have already complained that they were uninvited and unrepresented, even though their own vice-president, the Norwegian Sports Minister Linda Helleland, was present. They are in no place to talk, however, as the IOC factions who increasingly control WADA are themselves masters at ostracising and excluding critics.

The IOC are also masters at the murky art of backroom politics. While critical athletes and NADOs speak publicly, they are busy plotting and dealing behind the scenes. Transparency it is not, but it was notable that the United States Anti-Doping Agency could not even persuade the Americas representative on the WADA Executive Committee - Marcos Diaz from Dominican Republic - to support their stance on Russia in Seychelles.

A genuine and open discussion between all parties and WADA President Sir Craig Reedie about how to rebuild trust seems long overdue. But this is not how sports politics seems to work in 2018.


No progress in catching cheats

Until it happens, there will be little focus on real priorities. One of these should be scientific research to find a new test allowing improved detection of blood booster EPO (erythropoietin). This could potentially blow open a whole raft of new scandals, including in sports in denial that they even have doping problems, but most administrators would prefer for this never to happen.

It is no coincidence that sporting scandals only emerge through journalists, whistleblowers and external law enforcement agencies and, while events such as the White House summit help a little, much more must be done.

Stand: 01.11.2018, 14:07

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