Tensions between the World Anti-Doping Agency and the United States flared Thursday as a US government representative called a proposal to sanction countries that withdraw agreed upon funding “a direct attack on the United States.” A virtual meeting of WADA’s Foundation Board saw officials from both the global watch-dog and the United States voicing the need for cooperation. But Anthony Jones, representative of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), bristled at a proposal to punish member countries that opt out of funding. That’s just what the ONDCP recommended US lawmakers be given the power to do in June, accusing WADA of failing to implement governance reforms. The United States contributed $2.7 million (2.2 million euros) to WADA’s 2020 budget of $37.4 million.
During virtual meetings this week, WADA’s executive committee and Foundation Board discussed possible sanctions against member countries that fail to pay up, saying the US threat exposed a gap in the WADA Code. And WADA on Thursday touted multiple reforms it is undertaking after criticism not only from the United States but also from athlete groups and national anti-doping organizations for lack of transparency and independence. In particular, WADA has decided to appoint two independent members to its Executive Committee, whose twelve members are composed equally of representatives of the Olympic movement and governments.
It also set up a working group to propose new reforms and evaluate those already implemented. For WADA President Witold Banka, these are “significant improvements towards greater independence and better representation of athletes and national anti-doping organizations. “These reforms are just the beginning,” Banka added as both he and WADA director-general Olivier Niggli stressed the need for cooperation between the agency and the United States. “I am ready to work hand-in-hand with our colleagues with the United States,” Banka said. “We need each other, we need to work collaboratively for the future of anti-doping.” The United States is at odds with WADA over several issues, including WADA’s reservations about the Rodchenkov Act — legislation making its way through the US Congress that would allow criminal prosecution of doping. WADA argues the law could undermine its own efforts to police doping in international sport while not applying to US professional and college athletes. In other matters discussed at this week’s meetings, Niggli acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic could create “holes” in the drug testing programmes of some countries in the run-up to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. “We are following the evolution of the situation, we need to look at the list of athletes who can go to the Games in the coming months and make sure that there are not places in the world where because of Covid, there was a big hole and no testing for a while,” he said.