14th February 2018

Cohen’s appointment highlights ITA’s lack of independence

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) today welcomed the appointment of Ben Cohen as Director General of the Independent Testing Authority (ITA). It said that the ITA ‘will provide anti-doping services to those IFs and MEOs [International Federations & Major Event Organisations] that wish to delegate their anti-doping programmes to a body that operates independently from sports organisations and national interests’. However, it could be argued that Cohen, ITA ‘Independent Chair’ Dr. Valérie Fourneyron and the five ITA Board Members are not truly independent from sport or national interests.

Cohen is currently Director of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) European Regional Office and as his WADA biography reveals, he is ‘a member of various Commissions, Task Forces and Expert Groups with the IOC; the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)’. Dr. Valérie Fourneyron, a French politician, is also former Chair of WADA’s Health, Medical & Research (HMR) Committee, and was chosen by the IOC to Chair its Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR) Invitation Review Panel.

Another ITA Board Member is IOC and National Olympic Committee (NOC) representative, Prof. Uğur Erdener. He is also a member of the same WADA HMR Committee as Fourneyron; is President of the Turkish NOC; a former IOC Vice President; and a member of its Disciplinary Commission. He is also Vice President of ASOIF.

The International Federations’ representative on the ITA Board is Francesco Ricci Bitti, ASOIF President and honorary life President of the International Tennis Federation (ITF). Both Erdner and Bitti are also members of WADA’s Foundation Board.

The IOC Athletes’ Commission representative on the ITA Board is Kirsty Coventry, who is also a member of WADA’s Athlete Committee. The final ‘independent member’ of the ITA board is Dr. Peijie Chen, a member of the Communist Party of China who is President of Shanghai Institute of Physical Education. He received a letter (pictured, right) from IOC President Thomas Bach in November last year to congratulate the Institute on its 65th anniversary. “The IOC President, on behalf of the IOC, regularly sends congratulations to institutions and individuals“, said an IOC spokesperson.

The ITA was originally proposed by the IOC at an Olympic Summit in December 2015, to remove the conflict of interest whereby sport is responsible for policing against doping, but also for the financial success of its events. The proposal was made after it was found that the IAAF had colluded with Russia to delay the announcement of Russian doping positives until after the 2013 Moscow World Championships.

In December 2015, the IOC recommended that sports organisations should transfer their doping control operations to an ‘independent testing and results management agency’, which should be overseen by WADA. The independent agency would be funded by the sports organisations, who would make the money currently allocated towards anti-doping available to this new organisation. The Doping-Free Sport Unit (DFSU) of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) is to become the ‘operational nucleus’ of the ITA, today’s IOC statement reveals.

‘Governments, which are 50 per cent partners of WADA, should support this reform alongside the sports movement, both logistically and financially’, read the December 2015 IOC statement. ‘Sanctions should be pronounced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). In such a way also, the system of sanctions would be centralised, be cost-efficient and lead to harmonisation among all sports and all countries.’

As previously reported by The Sports Integrity Initiative, the IOC is the founding body of the ITA and will initially supply its funding. All five ITA Board Members were proposed by ‘the sporting movement’ and were vetted for suitability by a three person WADA-appointed Selection Committee. They were then put to the WADA Executive Committee for ratification. Incidentally, the CAS is funded by the Olympic movement and private parties (based on usage). The IOC’s Annual Report indicates that it allocated US$7.6 million in funding to the CAS in 2017.

Whether sport’s control and oversight over the ITA – a body it claims is independent – presents a conflict of interest is subject to debate. As The Sports Integrity Initiative has previously highlighted, organisations such as the IOC depend on the involvement of countries such as Russia in major events to generate commercial revenue to support their activities.

As shown above, the ITA Board Members have links across a variety of sporting organisations, all of which have an interest in commercially successful events. It could be argued that the ITA Board may have concerns about any doping announcement that could have a financial impact on such events.

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