OpEd: Edwin Moses Challenge to WADA

(ATR) The Olympic gold medalist and anti-doping leader says athletes must be heard by WADA.

Op-Ed by Edwin Moses, Chairman Emeritus of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency

The senior International Olympic Committee member, Dick Pound should be recognized for being a loyalist for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in his criticism of the report to Congress on WADA’s reform efforts by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Unfortunately, a blindly loyal WADA soldier is not what the world’s athletes need right now -- athletes need a truly independent WADA with independent athlete representation.

As an Olympian and Chair of the Laureus World Sports Academy, an athlete driven organization, and someone who has been passionate about clean athletes’ rights, I feel obligated to note a few important clarifications. One, the Foundation Board is NOT the highest decision-making body at WADA, and Mr. Pound knows this. The Executive Committee makes all the recommendations and key decisions that are typically rubber-stamped by the Foundation Board. There is not one right-minded Foundation Board member who wouldn’t gladly swap seats with an Executive Committee member.

Second, WADA insists seats are not "for sale," yet the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is allocated half of the Executive Committee seats in exchange for its funding commitment and the WADA sport members have rejected independent athlete representation by claiming the athletes do not pay so they cannot be at the table. The very organization that precludes WADA from claiming any kind of independence effectively controls the highest decision-making body at WADA. So, you can imagine, when the IOC says jump, WADA leaders asks, "how high?" WADA insists on having it both ways when it suits their agenda.

Mr. Pound claims the criticisms in ONDCP’s report were "out of the blue." However, since 2016, time and time again many groups, including global athlete groups, have called for WADA reform and have asked to have a meaningful seat at the WADA table. Even more specifically, WADA has been put on notice many times by Congress, who asked for this report from ONDCP, that they were fed up with WADA’s lack of independence and slow pace of reform. WADA testified at a House Energy & Commerce hearing on the Russian doping scandal in February of 2017, critical letters from the Chairman and ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee were sent to WADA, and report language in the Financial Services Appropriations Committee all foreshadowed ONDCP’s report.

Also, WADA was well aware of the increasing international concern about its governance. In the latter years of the Obama Administration, the world’s anti-doping leaders, initially from 18 countries but now standing at 37, endorsed the Copenhagen Declaration aimed at reforming WADA to ensure it would become independent and transparent and adopt good governance practices.

In 2018, athletes, sports ministers and governments from eight nations called for fundamental reform at an Emergency Anti-Doping Summit at the White House, hosted by ONDCP. Shortly after, the USOPC encouraged WADA to implement these basic democratic reforms and, most telling of all, the WADA Athlete Committee called on their parent organization to embrace reform.

Nothing in ONDCP’s report "came out of the blue."

But Mr. Pound misses the most important part of the ONDCP report, which is the US expects "WADA will operate in a transparent, accountable and independent manner that is above all else fair to athletes." Tellingly, Mr. Pound does not bother to address WADA’s continued resistance to adopt these very things that US and most international athletes demand of WADA.

When confronted with the Russian doping scandal, the biggest scandal sport has ever known, WADA blinked. To the bewilderment of us all, WADA has continually responded by isolating itself - alongside its chief funder the International Olympic Committee - and sided against the interests of the athlete community, sports fans and anti-doping organizations.

The interest of an effective anti-doping organization, whatever country it serves, is always, unfailingly, to do what’s right for athletes. The athlete voice calling for WADA reform has grown to new heights – it is only getting stronger and that is to be welcomed, not belittled. Ignore athletes at your own peril. Otherwise, it’s clear that it won’t just be the United States stating in no uncertain terms that nothing is off the table.

Homepage photo: World Athletics

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