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As previously reported, the United States government is threatening to defund or reduce funding to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) unless WADA immediately enacts serious reforms to the organisation. This is according to a report by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

Dick Pound responds to U.S. Government's threat to defund WADA
Dick Pound. Photo credit: AFP Getty Images

The report contains a series of recommendations to the U.S. Congress that are highly critical of WADA, particularly of the handling of Russia and their systematic doping.

Dick Pound, lawyer, first-ever president of WADA and vice-president of the International Olympic Committee told Athletics Illustrated on Saturday, “If I were a responsible person in ONDCP, I would be particularly conscious of the fact that I am part of the Executive Branch of the U.S. government. In that role, as a responsible official, I would be most concerned that in a report to the Legislative Branch of the same government, my organization did not submit false or misleading information.”

“In the same role, were I to be commenting on the activities of an international organization in which the ONDCP has played an active role during the past twenty years and had received information that the draft report contained factual errors, I would want to know why those errors were, deliberately, not corrected before the report was submitted to the Congress.”

WADA issued a detailed response to the threat and the factual basis apparently relied upon by ONDCP to “justify” the threat.

“That response is a devastating exposure of a deeply-flawed and palpably biased position, asserted by ONDCP, that cries out for exposure and denunciation.  To its credit, WADA has done so and has requested ONDCP to advise the Congress accordingly. Its public release of its response will, one way or the other, find its way to the Congress.”

In the report, the U.S. government complained that they were the highest contributor to WADA—of a modest sum.

WADA responds to report

The U.S. government’s annual contribution to WADA for 2019 was $2,513,651 and is apparently going up by approximately $200,000 for 2020. That’s a small amount of money considering the cost of many other international organisations. However, the U.S. does contribute more to WADA than any other country. This may be justified by the fact that Team USA is typically the largest at the Olympics and the U.S.’s ability to pay is also considered to be the highest, considering the nation’s robust economy.

For the 2012 London Olympics, the U.S. team consisted of 530 athletes. For Rio, in 2016 they sent 555. In 2012 Russia sent 436, Brazil 258 and Canada with just 11% of the population of the U.S. sent 281 and paid half the amount of the annual contribution.
Per capita, Canada paid much more than the U.S.

The 2019 sums are: Canada at $1,256,826, China $430,539, Russia $948,747, Japan’s contribution was $1,502,800, and Brazil just $367,043.

Russia, with five times the population of Canada and a similar population to Japan, should be paying much more.

But at the end of the day, the funding on a federal level is a very small amount of money.

Pound pointed out that there are two principal issues that deserve immediate identification. WADA governance: the U.S. representatives within WADA have approved all actions taken to date in respect of WADA governance and have advanced no other suggestions.

“The second is the allegation that WADA has been “soft” on the matter of systemic doping on the part of Russia. That is dead wrong,” added Pound. “WADA has been the lead agency in bringing that doping forward, exposing it and setting up the mechanism for resolving the problem. In the process, there was a two-week delay in an agreed-upon schedule for the provision of certain information by the Russians, information vital to the prosecution of doping cases. The Russians missed the deadline and were declared non-compliant immediately by WADA, whereupon they recanted and provided that information shortly thereafter.  That information has led to assertions of anti-doping rule violations and proposed sanctions which are now before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which will hear them in November 2020.  Only WADA has held Russia to account.  Incessant fixation on a procedural delay that is no longer relevant adds nothing to the fight against doping in sport.  Prosecution of Russian doping cases does.”

Russia is currently banned from international competition and has been since 2015. The appeal with the CAS will be heard on November 2, 2020.

Despite a full ban, save for some neutral positions for athletes to compete under the Olympic banner, the Russians continue to fail to reform themselves.  Russian athletes have broken at least 72 anti-doping rules so far in 2020 and 27 in June alone. The optics of which may appear soft to those not paying attention, but an outright competition ban is anything but soft.

Thirty-eight of the rule violations were missed tests and 34 in not providing information about the athlete’s location. Missing three tests in a 12-month period is an anti-doping rule violation and athletes are subject to suspension.

“A robust response to the acknowledged problem of doping in international sport requires a unified effort. If the U.S. is not part of the solution, it becomes part of the problem and U.S. athletes will face increasing competition from doped athletes.”

And WADA is not the only organisation holding Russia’s feet to the fire, World Athletics has fined the Russian Athletics Federation $10-million dollars related to corruption charges and they are currently delinquent in paying. Russian athletes are demanding action.

Without competition, their careers are going to wane. The athletes have now petitioned President Vladimir Putin.

World Athletics 110m hurdles champion Sergey Shubenkov, world champion pole vaulter Anzhelika Sidorova and Mariya Lasitskene, who is a three-time high jump world champion have penned a letter to Putin demanding him to intervene in the dispute between World Athletics (WA) and the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF).

RusAF owes the $10-million to WA for the corruption charges. If not paid, the few Russian athletes who are able to compete internationally under a neutral flag will no longer have that opportunity.

“I would also want to know precisely who provided the facts, prepared the report and the full terms of reference pursuant to which it was commissioned,” added Pound.

“If, from the perspective of the recipient of the report, I were a responsible member of the Congress, I would want to know why a report was submitted to my attention by the Executive Branch despite its knowledge that it was replete with factual errors and omissions, the effect of which was to encourage me to act on the basis of an erroneous and incomplete factual matrix.”

Perhaps if it came to be, the ONDCP would spend more in resources defending their report and their apparent position in demanding reforms from an organisation that they themselves—the U.S. representatives within WADA—approved all actions in respect of WADA governance and as Pound said, “have advanced no other suggestions.”