drug pill and capsule in blister packagingMuch of the build-up to this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio was dominated by the recommendation from the World Anti-Doping Association (“Wada”) that the entire Russian Olympic team should be banned from competing at the Games. This headline-grabbing recommendation was made following the explosive accusations, contained with an initial report from Professor Richard McLaren, that Russia operated a state-sponsored doping programme for four years across the majority of summer and winter Olympic sports.

Whilst the International Paralympic Committee suspended the Russian Paralympic Committee in response to the revelations, the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) rejected Wada’s recommendation, instead asking the individual sports’ federations to decide if Russian competitors should compete in their respective sports, a solution that IOC President Thomas Bach felt “balanced on the one hand, the desire and need for collective responsibility versus the right to individual justice of every individual athlete.”

The fall-out from Wada’s recommendation, the ensuing international furore and the IOC’s eventual decision to ignore it, led to some figures in the “Olympic family” criticising Wada’s actions. Indeed, Gerardo Werthein, the Argentinian IOC member, queried why WADA did not act on earlier reports from whistleblowers in respect of potential anti-doping breaches in Russia, lamented that the IOC was asked to make an “incredibly complex decisions in an impossible timeframe” and called for “real reform” of the anti-doping system.   Given that subsequent reports emerged that the IOC wished to establish its own “integrity unit”, with remit that would include anti-doping, some worried that this was as an attempt to neuter, or potentially replace, Wada as a punishment for calling for a blanket ban of the Russian Olympic team.

To put these tensions in their full context, it should be noted that Wada was set up on the initiative of the IOC, after the latter had led the calls for the creation of an independent international anti-doping agency in advance of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.  Moreover, the IOC currently provides 50% of Wada’s annual funding of £23 million from the IOC, with the remainder split between national governments. As a result, any disagreements between Wada and one its key stakeholders are sure to attract headlines and are not conducive to supporting the fight against doping.

Following its recent Olympic Summit in Lausanne on 8 October 2016, the IOC announced that Wada would receive a “substantial increase” in its funding should it successfully implement a number of reforms.  The proposed reforms had the following goals:

  • More independence – establish a new anti-doping testing authority within the existing Wada framework; ensure sanctions relating to doping cases arebe delegated to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, to avoid both Wada and other National Anti-Doping Organisations (“NADOs”) adopting the position of prosecutor and judge in doping cases; and for Wada to gain greater authority over NADOs to ensure that anti-doping is “more independent from national interests“.
  • More harmonisation – Wada should establish one centralised world-wide anti-doping system, with the aim of specifying a standard level of testing for each sport, to ensure athletes from all nations are treated equally.
  • More transparency – Wada should continue to have a regulatory role in the fight against doping, setting the standard for compliance and assessing NADOs, whilst ensuring a clear segregation of duties between the regulatory and testing bodies.
  • Increased capabilityWada should enhance its intelligence and investigative capabilities.
  • Better governance – Wada should create a policy to encourage and protect whistleblowers, whilst also increasing its transparency and accountability to its stakeholders.

Wada welcomed what it called the IOC’s “constructive proposals” and considered them at a meeting of its foundation board on 20 November 2016.  At the meeting, the board approved a number of recommendations, the aim of which were to equip the agency to be “fit for the future“. The board:

  • Endorsed a graded sanctioning framework for non-compliance, which would provide Wada with the power to impose a wide range of sanctions (from warnings and fines to full suspension of a country in the event of industrial scale state-sponsored doping) with the aim of ensuring that, when are sanctions imposed, they are proportionate to the offence.
  • Agreed to establish a Whistleblower Program, which would take effect in early 2017 and would, for the first time, formalise the process for protecting the confidentiality of whistleblowers. This would include supporting, protecting and rewarding whistleblowers “as appropriate” along the way.
  • Approved the creation of a working group to consider how Wada’s governance structure could be strengthened.
  • Agreed to continue to evaluate the establishment of an Independent Testing Authority, with a report to be provided on the next board meeting in May 2017.
  • Recognised that enhanced security measures in the light of the recent cyberattacks against its Anti-Doping Administration and Management System.
  • Confirmed that it would develop a draft 2018 budget to “take into consideration the new strategic activities that Wada will undertake“, in order to reflect the significant increase in activities required to implement the recommendations listed above.

At first blush, the respective announcements of the IOC and Wada appear to show that the respective bodies’ views on the future of the anti-doping movement are not too far apart. For example, the IOC appear keen for Wada to obtain enhanced intelligence and investigative capabilities, something that Wada are keen to obtain, whilst Wada has swiftly implemented a Whistleblower Program, one of the IOC’s shopping list of reforms. What is lalso apparent is that Wada is keen to ensure that it receives adequate funding, so that it can properly execute any expanded role it is tasked with performing.

However, with the next instalment of Professor Richard McLaren’s report set to be published in London on 9 December, there could be further bumps in the road ahead for all the parties concerned. Given the inevitable intersection of international competitive sport with global politics, any additional adverse headlines regarding anti-doping failures within Russia are likely to lead to further accusations from the Russian administration that Wada is seeking to stoke anti-Russian sentiment.

And, in this regard, Wada appear unperturbed. In recent day, Wada President Sir Craig Reedie called on Russia to admit to state-sponsored doping in order to regain the world’s trust, whilst the former Wada President Dick Pound has (somewhat colourfully) stated that “”It is like dealing with an alcoholic – you can’t cure him or her until there is an acknowledgement that a problem exists and that is what they have got to do.”

Given that Wada recently announced that the number of doping tests returning banned substances had risen by more than 20% in 2015, the merits of establishing an effective global anti-doping regime, which has the unequivocal support of all the main stakeholders, are plain to see. All those who are committed to watching and competing in “clean” sport will be hoping that, out of what at times has been a bruising dialogue between Wada and the IOC, a path to the future of clean sport can be found.