WADA approves governance reforms amid criticism from athlete groups

A meeting of the WADA Executive Committee and Foundation Board in Paris has resulted in a number of governance reforms at a time when WADA is facing increased criticism from athlete advocacy groups over the agency’s governance.

FILE PHOTO: A woman walks into the head office of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in Montreal, Quebec, Canada November 9, 2015.  REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A woman walks into the head office of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in Montreal, Quebec, Canada November 9, 2015. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Photo

The Executive Committee and Foundation Board of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) discussed and passed reforms aimed at importing the governance of the agency. The meetings took place under the umbrella of recent criticism from athlete groups over the agency’s lack of independence and independent athlete representation.

At the conclusion of the meetings, it was announced that the WADA Foundation Board approved a Code of Ethics, and the creation of an Independent Ethics Board.

Changes were also made to athlete representation with the World Anti-Doping Agency. The Foundation Board to agreed to a reformation and renaming of the WADA Athletes’ Committee, which is now the WADA Athletes’ Council.

One of the key reforms made to the Athletes’ Council was that members will now be chosen by their follow athletes, instead of appointed by WADA and the Chair of the Committee of Athletes’ Committee.

The new Athletes’ Council will include 20 members, five from each of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) and International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Athlete Commissions, eight elected by the Athlete Commissions of international sports federations, and seven athletes selected by an appointments panel made up by a majority of athletes.

Changes were also made to the Foundation Board itself. Two more seats have been added for representatives chosen from the WADA Athletes’ Council, with a further requirement being that one of the athletes chosen must come from para sports.

Two more seats were also added to the Foundation Board for representatives of National Anti-Doping Organizations (NADOs). These representatives will be chosen by the WADA NADO Expert Advisory Group, whose 10 members will be elected by the NADOs of each of the five continents (two members per continent).

Another two spots were also added to the WADA Executive Committee; one for the Chair of the WADA Athletes’ Council, and the other for an additional independent member.

The WADA Executive will now include 16 members, including the Chair of the WADA Athletes’ Council, five representatives of the international sports movement (with one of those positions required to go to a athlete representative), five representatives of world governments (limited to one per continent), and a further five independent members including the WADA President and Vice President.

There is the potential for more reforms to be made, as the Working Group on the Review of WADA Governance Reforms has had its mandate extended to the next meetings of the WADA Executive Committee and Foundation Board.

Speaking on the reforms passed at the meetings, WADA President Witold Bańka said, “we continue to make very good progress when it comes to governance reform at WADA.”

“This latest round of reforms will have a far-reaching and meaningful impact on how the Agency is governed, with more independent voices around the table and increased representation for athletes and National Anti-Doping Organizations.”

“I would like to thank all stakeholders that participated in the two rounds of consultation led by the Working Group, as well as the Working Group itself for its diligence in producing its recommendations, and the members of the ExCo and Board for their willingness to embrace the process.”

“It is important to stress that this is not the end but rather a continuation of an ongoing process of reform that is ensuring WADA remains a modern organization that is fully equipped to fulfil its mission to lead a collaborative worldwide movement for doping-free sport, with athletes at the center.”

Athlete advocacy groups had called for more reforms prior to the meetings, with an open letter signed by the Athletics Association, Athleten Deutschland e.V., International Swimmers’ Alliance, and Global Athlete calling on WADA to “listen to athletes’ calls for equal independent athlete representation and a fully independent Executive Committee.”

Maximilian Klein, Representative for international sports policy for Athleten Deutschland e.V, reacted to the reforms saying, “WADA should also dare to make more progress. None of this resolves their fundamental deficits. It [WADA] must become independent and enable independent athlete representation.”

Director General of Global Athlete, Rob Koehler, also weighed in on the reforms stating, “no surprises here. More smoke, mirrors and window dressing as WADA (with help from their friends the International Olympic Committee) say ‘no thanks’ to meaningful athletes representation at the table.”

It remains to be seen if the reform called for by athlete advocacy groups will be enacted or considered by WADA in the future. For now, WADA remains directly connected to the IOC, IPC, and larger international sports movement, as well as to international governments.

Speaking on the meetings as a whole, WADA President Witold Bańka stated, “these two days of meetings resulted in important steps forward for WADA and the anti-doping movement.”

“I am delighted that we were able to make real progress in a number of key areas. In addition to the approval of further governance reforms, we also welcomed an increase to the Agency’s annual budget; and, covered topics ranging from the establishment of an Athletes’ Anti-Doping Ombuds Program, which will be piloted next year, to confidential sources in the context of investigative work.”

“The Board also received important updates on how WADA continues to deal with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is supporting preparations for delivery of the anti-doping program at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing early next year.”

The next meetings of the WADA Executive Committee and Foundation Board will be held in Cairo, Egypt from May 18-19, 2022.