WADA-Präsident Witold Banka

WADA: Extending the terms of office? Backroom deals of the anti-doping fighters

Stand: 11.05.2023 11:58 Uhr

According to an internal WADA paper obtained by the ARD doping editorial team, the terms of office of the top management could be extended from six to nine years. A plan with potentially major consequences in the fight for clean sport.

Von Hajo Seppelt, Nick Butler and Jörg Winterfeldt

The process is somehow typical for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). It confirms the prejudices of all critics who accuse it of a lack of transparency and a penchant for backroom deals. An explosive internal document from March 27 is disguised with the harmless title: "Discussion Paper on WADA President and Vice-President Terms and Election". The word "draft" is also printed across it. The paper, seen by the ARD doping editorial team, is intended to extend the powers of the President, but was seemingly to be withheld from the public for the time being.

Probably with good reason: "The question…is whether, in light of the recent governance reforms and the nine years’ limit now set for the ExCo (Executive Committee) and Board members, the President and Vice-President should be treated differently and remain at six years maximum", it says, or "whether their positions should be extended to a maximum of nine years to align with the ExCo and Board members".

"Lapdogs of the IOC"

It may also be no coincidence that this backroom initiative comes during the tenure of the pale President Witold Banka. In his first three-year term of office, which ended last December, the former Polish Minister of Sport was most noteworthy for appearing uninspired, but more likely uninformed, in open question rounds in which he seemingly struggled when he could not simply read answers off the paper.

Barely a year in, Banka had to deal with a frontal offensive. At the end of 2020, athletes called for reforms and more influence. The media summarised the performance of the agency responsible for justice in the global doping fight with unflattering catchwords: "Inactive, dependent, overtaxed" (Deutschlandfunk). And the head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Travis Tygart, even blasphemed in the ZDF "Sportreportage": "WADA has unfortunately become the lapdog of the International Olympic Committee."

And what did WADA President Banka say? Demands to remove sports representatives and IOC members from the committees would undermine WADA structures. But they would work "intensively on transparency and on reforms". His understanding of transparency can be seen in the secret paper: Behind closed doors, the power and influence of the WADA President could be secured with a term extension.

"Six years is enough, nine years would be too long," Michael Lehner, a sports lawyer from Heidelberg and head of the German Doping Victims Assistance Association, told the ARD doping editorial team: "This is based on the terms of office in the IOC, where the President can be elected for a total of 12 years. That is also too long."

"There was never anyone who would have moved anything big."

WADA is now on its fourth President since 1999. The post is held alternately by WADA's two 50 per cent funders, the International Olympic Committee and the world's governments. Under this system, it was hoped, neither side would gain too much dominance.

But since founding head Richard Pound of Canada, no one has made a particularly positive mark on the post - neither former Australian politician John Fahey, nor Scottish Olympic official Craig Reedie, nor the current incumbent Banka. "None of them have been particularly creative. Sometimes I get the impression that, yes, this is a post that's sort of given out. There was never anyone who made anything big happen," says Lehner, a decades-long sports political expert.

The WADA leaders chosen by the states, who should be more independent because they do not come from organised sport, have also disappointed Lehner. His explanation is simple: "Laziness, lack of interest, the office is not that important, you have to break it down quite simply."

100,000 Swiss francs a year

That the mandate extension initiative might run into headwinds was anticipated by the discussion paper authors. One proposed solution, the paper says, would be to maintain a two-term system but "with a longer total number of years for the first term", consisting of six years for the first and three years for the second. The document adds: "If there is no willingness to extend the total mandate of the President and the vice-president, one single mandate of six years could be another option."

"Cooling off period"

Reforms enacted last year require a candidate to serve a 12-month "cooling off period", a kind of waiting year, before taking office. The paper argues that this, together with the three-year term limit, means that a president-elect must "campaign again almost one year after having taken office in order to take part in the re-election two years after". This "appears highly unproductive for the organization [sic] and will not allow the newly-elected President sufficient time to achieve meaningful goals before having to campaign again".

Theoretically, the argument may be true, but it misses the point in practice: the last presidents, including the current boss Witold Banka, had no opposing candidates for their second term and were unanimously confirmed in office. Conversely, this effectively means that in future even a less effective President could be allowed to remain in office for at least six years.

The undertaking is also controversial internationally. "Our opinion on terms of office, based on the principles of good governance, is that six or nine years is too long, so we would always support a shorter period - for example, three years," Kim Højgaard Ravn, head of the Danish Anti-Doping Agency, told the ARD doping editorial team, adding: "the danger otherwise is that you don't have to account for your work."

Banka and his vice-president, former IOC member Yang Yang from China, differ in their roles from the honorary status of all other elected officials anyway: they receive a fixed annual indemnity of 100,000 and 50,000 Swiss francs respectively (the equivalent of about 102,000 and 51,000 euros). And: it is not yet clear whether Banka and Yang can even run for a third term if the new proposal is accepted.

"Unloved child"

Critics like Lehner complain above all that institutions like the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and WADA are still not independent of the powerful IOC, even after decades. "If you just look at the problem of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, CAS, which wants to be an independent court of arbitration: they still don't manage to adapt the construct properly, because the IOC still wants to have this flow of power and determine from the top down," says Lehner. He adds: "I think that sport is basically not very interested in clearing up doping offences - only if it has to. The IOC's interest is primarily commercial, and WADA has to function accordingly. Basically, this whole doping issue is an unloved child."

WADA confirmed the corresponding reform plans to the ARD doping editorial team upon request. It said the Executive Committee had discussed on Tuesday (May 9) "some proposed changes to the terms of office of the President and vice-president in the context of recent governance reforms". The proposal will now be submitted to the ruling Foundation Board for consideration.