5th November 2018

Trio of top Athletes question WADA move to change Presidency Campaigning Rules

• Sebastian Samuelsson, Callum Skinner and Ali Jawad question “quick and quiet” attempt to push through changes to WADA Presidential candidacy criteria rules, which include a requirement for Presidential candidates to be aged 45 or above, and to hold at minimum a Masters’ Degree; if introduced, the new rules would render the candidacy of frontrunning candidate and global athlete favourite Linda Helleland ineligible
• In a sign of fierce athlete resistance to the direction of WADA under current leadership, Samuelsson, Skinner and Jawad call for WADA to “take a step back and consider how this move by its members looks to the world”
• Athlete trio also express deep concerns surrounding other potential Presidential Candidate rule change that could “prevent a vibrant and open Presidential campaign debate that champions or even allows free speech”
• Controversial Rule change, if enacted, would be huge hindrance to campaigns by candidates that differ from “status quo WADA thinking”, thus rendering potential reformist campaigns such as that of Helleland “almost impossible”
• The three athletes, who have five Olympic and Paralympic medals between them, question timing and motives of potential changes, which they say amount to “age discrimination” and are “a clear attempt to muzzle and silence candidates, especially those with views that differ to the current WADA Leadership – in an age of democracy, such potential autocratic rules cannot be allowed to happen”.

Three of the world’s leading Olympic and Paralympic athletes have, in a display of growing athlete unity surrounding the direction of the current World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) leadership, called out potential moves by members of WADA’s Board to make changes to the Global Regulator’s Presidential Candidacy criteria rules. The potential criteria rules, which are to be discussed in Baku, Azerbaijan surrounding WADA’s upcoming crucial Foundation Board Meeting on 15 November and could be introduced ahead of the WADA Presidential campaign, which begins in earnest at the start of 2019, include a new requirement for Presidential candidates to be aged 45 or above and to hold, at minimum, a Master’s Degree.

The surprising timing of the potential criteria changes comes only months after current WADA Vice President and athlete favourite Linda Helleland announced that she would be running as candidate to become the next WADA President, and just over 12 months before the next President enters office. Helleland is 41 years of age, and therefore, if the criteria were to be introduced, it would deem her candidacy ineligible and mean she would have to withdraw from the race.

This is a move that would be hugely controversial and unpopular among the global athlete community, who have welcomed Presidential frontrunner Helleland’s efforts to champion athlete rights along with her hardline position in supporting what many believe to be a firmer, more uncompromising anti-doping stance than the current WADA leadership. Helleland, who is the Minister of Children and Equality in her native Norway, has indicated that as President she would champion a more positive, forward-thinking, athlete-centred reformist agenda.

“To us, and I’m sure to many others, this appears to be a quick and quiet attempt by members of WADA to discuss and potentially push through surprising and controversial Presidential campaigning rule changes at the upcoming Foundation Board meeting. Such moves are totally unacceptable to us, the global athlete community, and no doubt to many others who cherish clean sport, too. Given the recent direction of WADA and the lack of transparency that we have witnessed, is it a merely a coincidence that just weeks before the athlete-minded candidate Linda Helleland would begin her campaign to be the next President, WADA could allow rules to be pushed through that would render Linda’s campaign ineligible? Call us sceptical, but regrettably we believe it is no coincidence, and is clearly an attempt to prevent the popular reformist candidate [Helleland] – that the athlete community believes WADA so desperately needs – from running. The potential rule change amounts to a form of ‘age discrimination’,” they said.

“Whether this move was initiated by WADA leadership or management, or whether it was initiated by members of WADA’s Boards, that is irrelevant. It is WADA’s duty to lead, and leadership requires having a finger on the pulse of public and athlete opinion – and to act when something’s not right. This is not right. It is 2018, and for what appears to be such an autocratic and secretive move to ‘shift the goalposts’ at the eleventh hour is, to us, unacceptable,” said Samuelsson, Skinner and Jawad. “We implore WADA to take a step back and consider how this move looks to the world,” they added.

The athlete trio also expressed their deep concerns surrounding another significant code of conduct rule to impact Presidential Candidates’ campaigns that could, if enacted, controversially prevent a vibrant and open Presidential campaign debate from taking place. “We understand that the proposed code of conduct rules to be presented at WADA’s Board Meeting in Baku require Presidential candidates to exercise self-restraint when speaking to media, including on social media, and to also conduct their campaigns with dignity and moderation.

“While we all want debate surrounding the future of the WADA-led anti-doping system to be dignified, we believe that this rule – which is wholly subjective and open to interpretation – would essentially “muzzle” candidates that hold different views and positions than the WADA status quo. This change, combined with the suggestion that candidates should be “restrained” with media – including, oddly, on social media – appears to be a clear and blatant attempt to stifle free-speech, or opinions that may differ from the current WADA leadership, and interestingly, comes at a time when the world is calling out for radical change from the WADA status quo.

“In short, and we make no secret of our support for the candidacy of Linda Helleland, this would be seen by the world as a huge hindrance to reformist candidates and would therefore render the campaigns of candidates such as Linda, almost impossible. It’s 2018, and in an age of democracy, such potential autocratic rules cannot be allowed to happen. That is why, today, we are calling this for how we see it, and we urge WADA to start listening to the increasing number of voices internationally that want an urgent change in direction from its leadership. The global regulator must listen to public and athlete opinion, and show leadership – that means stepping in when something doesn’t look right, and when something isn’t right. This isn’t right.”

• This media release was published by Athletes for Clean Sport on 5 November 2018. Click here for the original.

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