The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has this month been the target of hacking, but also finds itself in the crosshairs of an Olympic family demanding widespread reform in the battle against banned drugs in sport.
The leaking of confidential medical records of 66 athletes including tennis’ Williams sisters and three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome by the Fancy Bears hacking collective, believed to be operating from Russia, is however most likely not the thing that most threatens WADA.
Established in 1999 following the Festina affair -- over doping during and after the 1998 Tour de France -- as an International Olympic Committee initiative to “promote, coordinate and monitor the fight against drugs in sport”, Montreal-based WADA seems to have no choice but to instigate internal reform.
Widespread Russian doping revealed before the Rio Olympics had shown up deficiencies in WADA, according to IOC president Thomas Bach.
“Recent developments have shown that we need a full review of the WADA anti-doping system,” Bach said before the Olympics started in Brazil in a surprise broadside.
While the investigation into systemic Russian state-sponsored doping was revealed by Canadian Richard McLaren for WADA and led to the exclusion of hundreds of Russian athletes, Bach called for “a more robust and efficient anti-doping system. This requires clear responsibilities, more transparency, more independence and better worldwide harmonisation”.
Bach reinforced his view that reform was crucial in a letter to IOC members on September 16.
“The Olympic movement, as 50 percent shareholder of WADA, is ready to contribute to this discussion,” the German said.
“This review can be a turning point for the better in the fight against doping.
“We need to work together to come to a joint solution that ensures the integrity of sport, the protection of the clean athletes and is accepted by all the stakeholders of the Olympic movement.”
With an Olympic summit on anti-doping scheduled for October 8 in Lausanne, Bach asked for suggestions for improvement from IOC members and international sports federations.
IOC member Gerardo Werthein, president of Argentina’s national Olympic committee, was quick to accuse WADA officials of being more interested in self-justification and blaming major problems in the system on others
“I personally support a major restructuring of WADA with the development of an anti-doping body run by genuinely independent professionals,” was Werthein’s damning suggestion, the Argentinian rounding on senior figures at WADA, both past and present.
Werthein criticised WADA for its late reaction to the Russian doping scandal and its poor system of governance, also calling on the body to relocate “so that it can work in much closer cooperation with the sports movement to spread best practice and learn together how best to defeat the cheats”.
The Argentine’s idea has been mooted before -- the creation of a separate agency apart from WADA which would be tasked with fighting not only doping problems but also match-fixing and corruption.
WADA president Craig Reedie, speaking after meeting IOC members and federations on how to improve anti-doping systems, responded by saying that a separate body was not what the IOC wanted.
“It was encouraging to hear from IOC representatives during the meeting that the Olympic movement has no intention to dilute WADA but rather a willingness to reinforce its independence and regulatory powers,” Reedie said.
WADA director Olivier Niggli added: “I don’t think the situation is critical for WADA.
“We’ve just published a report (McLaren) which revealed what is probably one of the biggest doping scandals and whose final version will be made public at the end of October or start of November.
“Moreover, governments support WADA in a strong and unanimous way.”
A source close to the Olympic movement, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP there was a power struggle between Bach and Reedie.
“But in the middle of all that, there are the athletes and if we must reform WADA, we must, above all, have that at the forefront.”