WADA and the IOC Will be One Another's Salvation or Undoing
23 October 2016, 11h00 EDT (UTC-4)
The Montreal Gazette
Click photo for the newspaper article
My article in the Montreal Gazette discussed what the recent "Olympic Summit" means for international affairs and the future of global sport integrity. The Gazette published a slightly shortened version of my article below; the full text was later carried by several other publications in Europe and North America.
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Recently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) convened a closed-door summit, to debate the future of the global anti-doping regime. The summit was prompted by revelations of state-sponsored doping in the Russian sport system, which had ruptured into the public sphere on the eve of the Rio Olympic Games.
Yet, the IOC declaration emerging from its four-hour conclave said nothing about halting those crimes or bringing their perpetrators to justice. Instead, the IOC demanded a fundamental repurposing of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the institution that had had the audacity to investigate and expose the crimes.
WADA had called -- in vain -- for the IOC to ban the Russian team from Rio. In the months since, the agency has endured a campaign of vilification by political actors and cyberattacks by hackers. Far more insidiously, too many of WADA's ostensible sport partners appear to feel that the agency has betrayed them, by unmasking the ugly truths that lie behind impeccable fictions.
In this clash between the high ideals of sport and the low ruthlessness of politics, WADA holds the ethical high ground, but is catastrophically outmatched in its material resources.
In September, WADA convened a "Think Tank" in Lausanne, to advise them as they sally forth. I left those discussions with a sense that the mismatch between WADA's colossal mission and its pygmy budget is flatly absurd.
From an athlete's perspective, we need an independent WADA to protect us from exploitation. Too often, the only reward for ethical athletes is to suffer the injustice of being cheated of our rightful victories. On the other side, athletes who are enabled or coerced into doping are eventually left damaged in body and broken in mind.
From a global perspective, we need a powerful WADA to thwart subversion of international affairs. For better and for worse, sport has become a key instrument of statecraft, as much as diplomacy and aid, as much as defence and intelligence. To the extent that sport becomes captive to political corruption, it becomes an instrument to prop up tyrannies and kleptocracies, an instrument to marginalise democracy and the rule of law. It becomes a weapon against the common interests of the human race.
I feel certain that in the fullness of time, WADA's willingness to expose and condemn state-sponsored doping in Russia will come to be seen as a seminal victory in the fight for sport integrity. Yes, WADA could have moved sooner and faster. However, this should not blind us to the fact that before WADA was created, no one ever moved against the chamber of horrors of the East German sport system.
But it would be folly to believe that WADA could strike a blow against some of the most powerful figures in sport and politics, without those figures striking back. They have done so, and they will continue to pummel WADA until it perishes or it prevails over them.
The outcome will hinge on whether WADA will be able to rely upon the support of governments and athletes, as well as that of the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee.
I take some comfort in the fact that the IOC has insisted that it supports WADA's independence and its capacity to prosecute its mandate. However, I must confess that that is not my impression when I read the invective penned by the IOC's officers.
My impression is instead that the IOC can not forgive WADA for embarrassing the Olympic leadership during their moment in the sun. I fear that lurking behind the IOC's subtly scripted declaration on remaking WADA, are designs to undermine and supplant it.
If there is any justice to this impression, then I should offer the IOC leadership some simple advice.
Not everyone who stands up to you is your enemy, just as not everyone who flatters you is your friend.
Ultimately, WADA and the IOC will be one another's salvation, or undoing. The only people who would prosper from a confrontation between the two institutions would be those who trade upon doping in sport.