Athletes Extended an Olive Branch to WADA but...

Chicago, USA: "Athletes have tried to help the World Anti-Doping Agency improve and reform, and extended an ‘olive branch’ to the organization, but they didn’t take it – they put politics over principle so the time has now come for meaningful reform of WADA,". These were the words of World Champion 3000m runner Emma Coburn in an Editorial published today just three days ahead of WADA’s crucial Board Meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Coburn, who is also the Rio 2016 3000m steeplechase Bronze Medalist for the United States, joined the growing chorus of athlete voices from countries all across the world calling for major changes to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA’s) decision-making and governance structures. Joining an elite, growing list of athletes calling for "once-in-a-generation" change, the American offered her official backing to the popular Athlete-led Anti-Doping Reform Paper for WADA’s governance, The Alternative.

"Athletes from all corners of the world are united in their vision by calling for a better, more relevant and modernized World Anti-Doping Agency that can promote clean sport at all costs," said Coburn. "Over the last couple of years, following Russia’s state-supported doping scandal, athletes have collected their thoughts and ideas for how to make WADA a much better version of itself, something which has been given greater importance recently following WADA’s controversial actions. Athletes concluded we need a more accountable WADA, a more transparent and trustworthy WADA and a more independent WADA, free from the constraints and wishes of sports promoters. This is what The Alternative offers, and that’s why I’m happy to give it my backing today, just three days ahead of WADA’s huge Foundation Board meeting in Azerbaijan."

The 28-year-old, who hails from Boulder, Colorado, reflected the consistently-held views of the athlete community, who have been vocal of late in questioning the WADA leadership’s priorities. "Athletes all over the world are now constantly asking the question: why is WADA putting politics above principle? Why is the very organization that is meant to have our backs inviting a country back into the fold that perpetrated what many believe to be the worst state-supported doping scandal of all time when it hasn’t completed its homework and fulfilled its side of the Roadmap?

"Why is WADA helping the cheats instead of the clean athletes, and why in reinstating Russia did it put the wishes of a handful of sports administrators around a Board table ahead of the interests of millions of athletes and billions of sports fans?" she added. "Yet, when we have raised these concerns – which reflect what the majority in society are thinking – and when we have proposed our positive, forward-thinking solutions to WADA’s problems, we have been met with belittlement and criticism. WADA’s crisis could have been easily avoided if the organization had decided to listen a little more, and criticize a little less."

Coburn also raised the growing concerns of the athlete community concerning new conditions for candidates in the upcoming WADA Presidential campaign to be discussed and, potentially, adopted at WADA’s Board meeting this week; particularly two new rules concerning "stifling free speech of candidates" and "age discrimination" that have been met with fierce resistance by the athlete community. "The sneaky new WADA Presidential candidate conditions that would, if passed in Baku, make it a requirement for candidates to be over the age of 45 and warn against candidates engaging in open, public debate.

"This is a thinly-veiled attempt to rig the election of the next WADA President, to prevent our choice – the athletes’ choice - Linda Helleland from running, and to stifle the voices of opposition. WADA is meant to be an organization concerned with fairness and equality in sport, not stifling the views of popular candidates that want to do the right thing and change the World Anti-Doping Agency for the better. These moves from WADA – which interestingly has not done what would be expected of the global regulator and stepped in to say the new rules are discriminatory and shall not pass – tell you all you need to know about the priorities of the current leadership: politics over principle. These back-room moves will backfire and further isolate WADA from athletes."

Coburn, who, in recording a time of 9.02.59 at London 2017, became the first American woman to win a gold medal in the steeplechase at either the World Championships or the Olympics, today pledged her support for Linda Helleland, the athlete-favorite reformist candidate to become the next President of WADA. Calling Helleland’s hard-line stance on doping "everything that the public and athletes expect to come from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s leadership", Coburn also stated that the recent remarks of alternative candidate, Poland Sports Minister Witold Banka, have led the athlete community to the conclusion that the Minister "does not have his finger on the pulse of mainstream athlete and public opinion outside the WADA Boardroom" and that "he clearly does not have the radical WADA reform vision needed at this critical time for the anti-doping movement."

The WADA Foundation Board convene for their biannual meeting in Azerbaijan on 15 November, and athletes are urging WADA to begin engaging with The Alternative and to rethink the current proposals which fall far short of athletes’ demands.

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