Liam Morgan

To say World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) meetings in recent years have been fractious would be an understatement the size of the deceit carried out by Russia with its infamous doping programme.

The Russian scandal sparked numerous feuds at gatherings of the WADA Executive Committee and Foundation Board for what felt like an eternity, as both sides of the global watchdog - the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Governments - clashed over the way it should be handled.

For a brief period, largely when a certain Mr Trump occupied the White House, they were then dominated by criticism from the Unites States about the lack of reform at WADA.

Judging by last week’s Foundation Board meeting in Paris - where acceptance, rather than animosity, was the order of the day - WADA is entering a period of relative calm, so much so that I joked with one WADA staff member that it had become an IOC Session. But it is by no means clear of the storm just yet.

The agreement between the IOC and Government representatives in the French capital on reforms designed to improve the governance at WADA was notable for the fact there have not been many for much of the period since the agency was established in 1999.

"I have to say from my perspective it was one of the most effective meetings in the history of WADA," WADA President Witold Bańka told insidethegames.

"We achieved a compromise between both stakeholders regarding difficult matters like governance reforms.

"All that has been approved is an enormous change and I am happy.

"For me it is encouraging that we received the compromise and only positive comments. There were no critics from stakeholders - even if they have a different opinion, they all supported the direction we are taking and the reforms."

Yet there is more to it than WADA would have you believe.

It seems the Government representatives did not put up as much of a fight as they previously would have done regarding certain elements of the reforms, which were largely based on recommendations by one of the hundreds of working groups WADA has set up to oversee this convoluted process.

A key proposal from the working group was the chair of the newly-composed WADA Athletes' Council, set to replace the Athlete Committee, not come from one of the IOC or International Paralympic Committee members that are due to form the group in the future.

This was put forward amid concerns the IOC would be able to exert further control over WADA as, under the reforms, the chairperson of the Council will be given full voting rights on the Executive Committee.

But it did not get enough support to go through, meaning the chair of the Athletes’ Council, when it is eventually created, could feasibly be a full member of the IOC.

Such a deviation from the recommendations - which WADA’s members were entitled to as they were not legally binding and were suggestions rather than directives - and the fact it was not passed will only bolster the opinion of those who feel the agency is essentially run by the IOC.

The working group also failed with its mission to have six independent members on the Executive Committee, including the President and vice-president, the independence of which formed part of the last governance review process that began back in 2018.

On the other hand, some of the reforms are sensible and should improve an archaic structure.

There will be greater athlete representation at WADA in the future, although whether it is the type of representation the most ardent critics of the organisation have demanded remains to be seen.

WADA President Witold Bańka claimed last week's Foundation Board meeting was one of the most productive the agency had ever had ©WADA
WADA President Witold Bańka claimed last week's Foundation Board meeting was one of the most productive the agency had ever had ©WADA

National Anti-Doping Organisations are also set to have a greater say with the addition of two dedicated seats on the Foundation Board.

An independent Ethics Board will be formed and, in a rare example of the IOC not getting what it wants, it will have the final call on any decisions made.

The IOC - the Sports Movement, in WADA parlance - had called for the sanctioning power to rest with the Executive Committee to mirror its own ethics procedure, one which is the subject of frequent, and deserved, criticism.

Under the WADA model, the Executive Committee will be "consulted" when cases arise but a panel formed from the Ethics Board will render the decision and award.

While Trump is no longer in the most powerful position in the world, the US has not completely repaired its relations with WADA and still owes the organisation $1.3 million (£976,000/€1.2 million) of its $2.9 million (£2.2 million/€2.6 million) contribution after it withheld the funding due to its concerns over the governance reforms.

Banka said the signs had been positive at the meeting following a significant intervention from the recently-appointed US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) director Rahul Gupta, who struck a far more conciliatory tone than his predecessors.

"I read the signals from the US side and they were really encouraging," Bańka said.

"We solved some difficulties in terms of relationship between WADA and the public authorities in the US."

It is not yet clear when - or if - the US will pay up, however. Speaking to Gupta after the meeting, I found it intriguing that he stopped short of confirming the reforms passed by the Foundation Board would be the catalyst for the Americans sending WADA the rest of the money.

WADA President Witold Bańka met with new ONDCP director Rahul Gupta in Paris last week ©Twitter
WADA President Witold Bańka met with new ONDCP director Rahul Gupta in Paris last week ©Twitter

Gupta had the opportunity to say this was the first step in a new era for the US and the agency, but chose not to do so.

"The things that they have been talking about and are happening are encouraging," Gupta, the first medical physician to hold the role at the ONDCP, told insidethegames.

"I will be speaking with some other colleagues, Congress members, the National Anti-Doping Organisation, and the National Olympic Committee and then I will make a decision.

"It will be based on some consultation but clearly the actions to reform are very encouraging.

"The US has been pushing those and we are happy to see now the reform measures, but we still have to see the implementation of those."