Features 29th August 2017

Annual Report outlines progress & politics of WADA

The World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) annual report, published last week, outlines some of the successes the agency has achieved over the 2016 year, however certain facts that don’t suit WADA’s political agenda appear to have been excluded. In the report (PDF below), WADA outlines progress made in areas such as:

• expansion of its investigatory staff from two to six;
• educational advances;
• funding for 17 social science research projects;
• the launch of its Speak Up! whistleblower programme;
• an October 2016 Partnership with Interpol;
• 85 research projects currently being reviewed;
• special research grants into biomarkers for erythropoiesis stimulating agents (ESAs) and hypoxia related to the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) – six projects being reviewed from nine applications, with an announcement due in September;
• launch of the Technical Document for Sports Specific Analysis (TDSSA) setting minimum levels of analysis for certain substances in certain sports;
• A partnership with Astellas Pharma Inc. regarding the identification of new doping substances.
• improved security of the Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS), with a new ADAMS set for 2017;
• scientific research budget of US$6 million for 2016;
• a four-year plan for budget increases.

However, the Report is selective with regards to its reporting of other facts – specifically those relating to the identification of systemic doping in Russia.

Systemic doping in Russia

‘In November 2015, the Pound Commission Report I highlighted widespread doping in Russian athletics’, states the Report. Whilst this is true, this statement neglects to mention that WADA first heard from whistleblowers Yuliya Stepanova and Vitaly Stepanov regarding systemic doping in Russia five years earlier.

‘While WADA did have discussions with whistleblowers as early as 2010, it took almost four years for the whistleblowers to develop and provide the corroborated evidence that any investigation would require to proceed’, argued WADA President Sir Craig Reedie in September last year. ‘Once WADA had that evidence in hand in December 2014, the Agency immediately launched the Pound Commission in January 2015 when it acquired the legal authority to do so under the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code’.

However, Article 20.7 of the 2009 World Anti-Doping Code required WADA to ‘monitor Code compliance by signatories’ and to ‘cooperate with relevant national and international organizations and agencies, including but not limited to, facilitating inquiries and investigations’. WADA carried out investigations prior to 2015, such as the one it conducted into Lance Armstrong.

In December 2012, WADA received further evidence of exactly how the systemic Russian doping operated in Russia. Discus thrower Darya Pishchalnikova sent the IOC and WADA a letter (PDF below). Pishchalnikova contacted the Mail on Sunday after the IOC and WADA ignored her letter.

In July 2013, the Mail on Sunday broke the story of systemic doping in Russia. The journalists involved in the story passed the information behind their investigation on to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in July 2013 but never heard back from them. The 2016 WADA Annual Report lists its Founding President Dick Pound as a member of the IOC.

Two years later, in December 2014, WADA tasked Pound with investigating systemic Russian doping after Hajo Seppelt broadcast a documentary on ARD repeating the allegations. Once again, whistleblowers who had approached WADA at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics – the previously mentioned Stepanovs – provided information to Seppelt. WADA’s former Chief of Investigations, Jack Robertson, said that he was forced to leak information to the media in order to force WADA to act.

Members of the investigating Independent Commission (IC) included Pound as well as Richard McLaren, who was later appointed as an Independent Person (IP) to investigate allegations of systemic doping at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. It could therefore be argued that both the IC and IP investigations were far from ‘independent’, as WADA has consistently claimed.

WADA’s claim that the second IC Report, published in January 2016, ‘revealed serious anti-doping breaches, corruption and bribery within former International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) leadership’ is correct. In a statement that followed the arrest of former IAAF President Lamine Diack and former Director of the IAAF Medical and Anti-Doping Department, Gabriel Dollé, in November 2015, WADA said that the arrests were the result of information passed on to French authorities by the IC.

Governance issues

‘To ensure the independence of the anti-doping system from sports organizations and national governments, in November 2016, the Foundation Board approved the creation of a working group with stakeholder representation from governments, the Sport Movement, National Anti-Doping Organizations, athletes and other experts’, reads the 2016 Annual Report (emphasis added). This statement appears to reinforce criticisms based around WADA’s lack of independence from the sporting movement.

The working group to ensure independence of the anti-doping system from sport and governments features two stakeholders that are held, in the same sentence, to be influencing the anti-doping system. These are the sporting movement and governments.

Independent Observers

‘Since 2000, the IO program has helped enhance athlete and public confidence at major sport events by randomly monitoring and reporting on all phases of the doping control and results management processes’, reads the WADA Annual Report. This statement ignores failures with the Sochi 2014 Independent Observer (IO) Report that could have highlighted systemic Russian doping earlier, as well as the organisational failures highlighted by the Rio 2016 IO Report.

The Sochi 2014 IO Report states that while all Sochi laboratory staff ‘had been identified in the Laboratory Games Staff list under their ISO 17025 accreditation’, a ‘representative of the Ministry of Sport of the Russian Federation’ who ‘was not a part of the Laboratory Games staff and the IOC Medical Commission’ and ‘whose role was unclear to the IO’ was also present.

It is now understood that this was Russian state police (FSB) agent Evgeny Blokhin, who was allegedly responsible for opening the bottle caps of Russian doping samples. The IO Report, which was published in May 2014, also found (p27) that ‘some Sample Collection Forms were required to be reviewed and approved by the Doping Control Stations Venue Manager before the samples were transported to the Sochi Laboratory’. The same report found that ‘the stickers could be removed from the Sample Collection Forms, indicating a possibility that the sample code could be transferred to another athlete, potentially seriously compromising the integrity of the process’.

WADA has also confirmed that the Sochi 2014 laboratory knew which samples needed to be switched because Russian athletes were photographing their doping control forms at Sochi 2014 venues, which contain the sample number. This is confirmed in the IP Report, which outlines that the photos were received by Irina Rodionova, a former Deputy Director of the Centre of Sports Preparation (CSP) of the national teams of Russia, a subordinate organisation to the Russian Ministry of Sport (MoS).

Rule 4.9 in the Appendix of the Sochi 2014 Anti-Doping Rules (PDF below) does not permit photographs to be taken whilst the doping control station is in operation. Given the presence of the IO team in Sochi as well as a number of international observers (see picture on right), it could be argued that these issues should have been picked up. It could also be argued that it might be viewed as suspicious that Russia reported not a single AAF at Sochi 2014.

Athlete Biological Passport

WADA’s 2016 Annual Report also reveals that the ABP has caught 129 people since its launch in 2010 – or 21 people for each year of its operation. Implementation of the ABP is understood to be more expensive than urine tests, which make up the vast majority of doping tests in sport. In 2015 David Kenworthy, then Chair of UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), told the BBC that ABP tests cost £439 per test as compared to £371 for a standard urine test.

Yet WADA argues that ABP reduces the cost of testing. ‘The ABP complements the traditional anti-doping testing approach to enhance the cost-efficiency of anti-doping programs’, it states on its internet site.

Independent Testing Agency

WADA’s 2016 Annual Report accurately states that the IOC asked it to establish the feasibility of setting up an Independent Testing Agency (ITA) that can be used by World Anti-Doping Code signatories in November 2015. As stated in the Report, WADA didn’t agree to set up such a Working Group until a year later. In May 2017, WADA ‘approved the mechanism for appointment of the ITA Board’. The reasons for such delay are not explained.

Financial Report

WADA states that during 2016, its annual budget was US$28.3 million, $8 million less than Neymar’s $36.2 million annual wage. WADA points out that over its lifespan, its annual budget has grown at the rate of 1.4% per annum. As previously mentioned, its four-year plan provides for a ‘substantial’ budget increase, and is due to be presented to the WADA Executive Committee meeting in September.

The Annual Report states that additional funding is needed for WADA to ‘significantly increase the Agency’s effectiveness as the global leader of clean sport’. This may well be correct, however academic research into this area has previously revealed that increased funding does not necessarily result in increased doping detection. Carsten Martensen and Verner Møller found that more funding equals more testing, but that doping detection rates remain the same.

In the 2016 financial year, WADA attained 97.93% of its budgeted contributions from public authorities (see picture on right). It said that this represented its lowest collection rate since 2007. It reported a US$1.2 million operating loss for the 2016 financial year, compared to a $621,400 operating profit for 2015, however this was reduced to $729,400 due to gains on interest and exchange rates. WADA said that the loss was due to the costs of the IP Reports as well as the development of a new version of ADAMS, which is scheduled to be launched this year. WADA said that cash reserves would cover its losses.

WADA also revealed that its litigation costs rose 32% above budgeted cost, however a figure was not given. Interestingly, its bill for ‘temporary staff’ rose from US$822,000 during 2015 to $6 million for 2016, however no reason was given for this.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that much of the work that WADA does in maintaining the World Anti-Doping Code, the Prohibited List, the five International Standards and overseeing laboratory accreditation is hugely valuable to anti-doping. That it manages to do this on a budget that is significantly less than the world’s most expensive footballer is a fantastic achievement.

However, WADA is struggling with an anti-doping system that has expanded hugely since the agency was created. Doping has become more intricate and complicated, involving issues such as micro-dosing and gene doping that could not be envisaged back in 1999.

As with other companies and agencies, WADA’s Annual Report is intended to showcase its achievements and victories in achieving its mission, which is stated on page two (see picture on right). However, it could be argued that WADA’s consistent failure to acknowledge its own failures is actively undermining sport’s perception as to whether it is completing that mission effectively.

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