The Clash Between IOC And WADA Isn’t Getting Any Better

Until the IOC starts taking WADA's recommendations on doping seriously, expect more gridlock and scandals

IOC President Thomas Bach — Getty Images
Nov 15, 2016 at 12:26 PM ET

Those expecting a major overhaul to international sport’s doping controls in the wake of the Russian doping scandal are going to be sorely disappointed.

On the agenda for the World Anti-Doping Agency’s board meeting this weekend is the organization’s presidential election. The incumbent is Sir Craig Reedie, and just last month, a consortium of 20 national anti-doping delegations made what the New York Times politely called a “thinly veiled call for new leadership.”

Reedie, you see, is not only WADA president but, until August, had been an executive board member at the International Olympic Committee, a dual appointment rife with conflicts of interest. That sparked criticism from many corners, including the U.S. Senate, athletes, and athletic administrators. The national anti-doping groups released this statement:

“The leaders were also in unanimous agreement that one reform proposal paramount to ensuring fairness to clean athletes is the separation of sport leaders from critical anti-doping executive functions. Further, the leaders also reaffirmed their belief that no decision maker within an anti-doping organisation should hold a board, officer, or other policy-making position within a sport or event organizer.”

Gee, I wonder whom they can be talking about? It needs to be noted that Reedie now continues only in a regular IOC member role without the policy-making power he had, a point WADA was quick to note in response to the national anti-doping collective’s proposals—yep, they deciphered the target of that statement—and added that Reedie “continues to be fully committed to strengthening WADA and ensuring that athletes’ rights are safeguarded.”

Though WADA and the IOC have lacked consensus on recent issues—most notably, WADA wanted a full ban of all Russian athletes from the Olympics, a recommendation that the IOC declined to heed—the IOC has said WADA should have increased authority to fight drug cheats, although there is no indication of extra funding to help the group in doing so.

And now the IOC has thrown its support behind Reedie’s re-election, the Associated Press reported. In fact, there are no other candidates for WADA leadership gig. At least he seems to have come to understand the thorny position he was in.

“I did have a conflict of interest before, and I chose Wada,” Reedie said in September.

That’s why many in the sports world remain worried about international sport’s “dysfunction, mistrust and self-interest,” to use the words of Sky News writer Paul Kelso.

“After a scandalous and shaming year, this week the Olympic movement has the chance to show it is serious about catching drugs cheats and reforming the systems that let them to thrive,” Kelso wrote. “Do not hold your breath.”

Consecutive Olympics have been marred by drug-testing problems: at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, there allegedly was rampant cheating by the Russians; at August’s Summer Games in Rio, independent observers decried “serious logistical failings” with testing procedures that led nearly half of some days’ planned tests being abandoned. Just this week, WADA suspended the accreditation of the new Qatar lab, and the French are facing a 20-percent reduction in tests due to budget issues.

Though WADA has been blamed for acting slowly on information regarding Russian doping, it has at least commissioned the McLaren Report (and his due-next-month follow-up) and held a Think Tank in September at which the group composed an eight-point plan to strengthen the anti-doping mission.

“Now, it’s time to fully equip the Agency with the resources it requires to strongly, and independently, lead and monitor clean sport,” Reedie said at the time.  “It was particularly encouraging to hear from IOC representatives in the room who confirmed that the Olympic movement has no intention to dilute WADA but rather a willingness to reinforce its independence and regulatory powers.”

Being independent is all fine and good, so long as the IOC is willing to accede to WADA’s recommendations. Troublingly to WADA’s mission is that IOC president Thomas Bach doubled down on his stance in a speech Tuesday, saying many world leaders had voiced support to him about letting each sport federation decide which Russian athletes could compete—even though they were largely unequipped to do so.

“They appreciated and acknowledged we did not take a political decision, but we took a decision that took in the interest of sport and respected justice for clean athletes and protecting the clean athletes worldwide,” Bach said, per the AP. “To see this acknowledgement and this appreciation by so many political leaders was a confirmation of our decision and is a great encouragement for all of us.”

Reedie’s comments acknowledging his conflict of interest and his decision to step down from the IOC executive board are a step in the right direction, but that won’t mean much if the IOC isn’t ready to listen.