28th November 2018

WADA denies rejecting World Players Association’s reform proposals

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has denied rejecting reform proposals (PDF below) put forward by the World Players Association in 2017. ‘WADA did not reject any proposal from the World Players Association (WPA)’, wrote a WADA spokesperson in an email. ‘In fact, we communicated with them on this matter on several occasions in 2017 and 2018 (both formally and informally). Official letters were sent to them on 4 April, 24 April and 22 May 2018.’

‘In 2017 World Players proposed to WADA’s governance review process a series of governance reforms built on four pillars that lie at the heart of all effective models of governance’, read a 19 November WPA statement. ‘WADA has not provided World Players with a reasoned reply for the rejection of its proposals’.

WADA’s spokesperson said that WADA Director General, Olivier Niggli, had encouraged the WPA to submit their proposals as part of the ongoing Code Review Process. ‘We also offered to organise an in-person meeting with the Code drafting team and set aside some time for them to meet with out Athlete Committee at one of their upcoming meetings’, continued the WADA spokesperson’s email. ‘Indeed, the WPA did meet with our Code drafting team on 2 October 2018, in Lausanne, Switzerland, and also met with experts from our Governance Working Group – to whom the WPA’s proposals were sent – on 13 October 2017 at the WPA offices in Nyon, Switzerland. The matter was also brought up at our Foundation Board meeting in May 2018, where both the Executive Committee and Foundation Board agreed to the proposals set forth by Mr. Niggli in his correspondence with the WPA.’

The WADA spokesperson pointed The Sports Integrity Initiative to the minutes of its May 2018 Foundation Board meeting. This reveals that WADA’s Executive Committee did reject a WPA request to meet with its Foundation Board, but only because it considered that the WPA had to follow the same process as everyone else if it wished to submit suggestions for revisions to the Code.

‘The members had before them a letter that WADA had received just before the meeting from the World Players Association’, read the minutes. ‘He [Olivier Niggli] would not spend any more time on that, but it was there for the sake of transparency. The members had the other correspondence in their folders. The previous day, the Executive Committee had discussed the matter and endorsed the position expressed to the union in the past, which was that the association [WPA] was welcome to provide submissions to the process of the Code. WADA would be willing to have it meet with the Code Drafting Team and was also open to the association meeting the WADA Athlete Committee. He did not think that there was any reason for the association to be heard by the Foundation Board as it had requested, because no other specific group was being heard on Code matters by the Foundation Board. Therefore, the association was most welcome to be part of the process, but it had to follow the same process as everybody else.’

On 15 November, the WADA Foundation Board approved governance reforms it descried as ‘wide ranging’. ‘The entire process of governance review has been comprehensive and has clearly shown WADA’s willingness to adapt and that it wants to ensure it has the right processes in place’, wrote the WADA spokesperson. The reforms included:

• An independent President and Vice President;
• Formation of a Nominations Committee in order to ensure the right people in terms of skills and independence serve in senior WADA roles;
• The addition of two independent seats to its Executive Committee – WADA clarified that nominations for these positions could be proposed by the sports movement or governments, but they must be independent of them;
• A nine year limit for all members of the Foundation Board, Executive Committee and Standing Committees;
• Formation of an Independent Ethics Board;
• One seat each at a minimum for both athlete and NADO representation in all Standing Committees (Athletes, Finance & Administration, Compliance Review, Health Medical & Research, and Education).

WADA’s governance reforms (PDF below) were formulated by its Governance Working Group, and were announced on 24 October. They were criticised by Athletes for Clean Sport and from the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations (iNADO) for not being ‘wide ranging’ enough. WADA’s 15 November Foundation Board meeting approved the proposals without change, leading to the WPA’s criticism.

WADA’s reforms did not go as far as those proposed by the WPA, Athletes for Clean Sport, or iNADO. The WPA proposals called for a third of WADA seats to be elected from sports organisations, governments and athletes. They called for all members of WADA’s Executive Committee members to be independent, and for all anti-doping matters to be adjudicated in a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that had undergone reforms to ensure its independence from sport. The WPA also called on WADA to implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

WADA argued that it is unable to provide athletes with additional representation on the Executive Committee due to the disorganised nature of athlete representative groups. ‘Once the athletes are able to confirm exactly how and by what means they are represented, as well as how their representatives are selected, then an open discussion will be held to determine at which existing and/or new levels within WADA, athlete representation could be strengthened’, read both the Working Group recommendations and the Foundation Board statement. To the WPA, a highly organised player union, this might be considered a red rag to a bull.

‘Clearly, the governance proposal of the World Players Association was rejected by WADA without serious contemplation’, writes Brendan Schwab, Executive Director of the WPA, in an email. ‘The governance reforms approved by WADA fall short of what is required. We stand by the four pillars of our reform proposal and will continue to press for holistic reform of the governance of WADA that accords with best practice. Without that, the confidence of athletes and key stakeholders in the global anti-doping effort cannot be assured.

‘As far as athlete representation is concerned, it is not for the athletes to organise themselves in a way that meets the arbitrary and shifting requirements of WADA. Instead, WADA has a responsibility to respect the fundamental right of athletes to be represented by persons or organisations chosen by the athletes themselves, and reflect that in its decision-making processes. 

‘This includes, of course, the almost 80,000 players in professional team sports who belong to player associations affiliated with the World Players Association. WADA’s continued insistence that players must be bound by the WADA Code yet be excluded from any meaningful contribution to the development of the Code is a denial of the right of players to freedom of association. One consequence is that the WADA Code is not fit for purpose, especially in relation to professional team sports.’

Schwab’s comments support those made at the 2018 UEFA Anti-Doping Symposium, where international federations representing team sports argued that the World Anti-Doping Code does not allow them to adapt their anti-doping programmes in order to catch doping cheats. A day earlier, the International Testing Agency (ITA), which is funded by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had explained that its mission is to convince more international federations to allow it to manage their entire anti-doping programmes.

It would appear that although some progress has been made, the reforms made by WADA do not go far enough for the WPA, Athletes for Clean Sport and iNADO in ensuring WADA’s independence and providing athlete representation. Earlier this month, Ali Jawad of Athletes for Clean Sport dismissed suggestions that The Alternative, his proposal for reform of WADA, was put together by others with ulterior motives.

WADA has yet to outline what an appropriate method would be for athletes to ‘confirm exactly how and by what means they are represented, as well as how their representatives are selected’, to use its words. Why this is needed has not been fully explained. Also, it would appear that questions need to be asked as to whether the ITA has the expertise, funding and staffing required to take over the anti-doping programmes operated by the international federations in charge of team sports. 

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