World Anti-Doping Agency Threatens U.S. Exclusion Over Funding Cuts


Officials from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) told Reuters Thursday that U.S. participation in global events could be in jeopardy if the U.S. follows through on threats to withdraw funding from WADA.

The row stems from a report in June filed by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) that criticized WADA’s operates and demanded immediate reforms. Attached was a suggestion to withhold American funding from WADA until the U.S. gains “a proportionate voice in decision-making” to push for changes.

“The consequences of a withdrawal of WADA funding by the U.S. could be more severe and far reaching for American athletes,” WADA President Witold Banka told Reuters. “We have been approached by a number of governments of the world that were shocked by the threats from the U.S. government supported by USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency).

“These governments want us to consider an amendment to the compliance standard meaning that non-payment by a government of its WADA contribution could lead directly to that country’s NADO (National Anti-Doping Organisation) being declared non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code. Inevitably this could have serious repercussions for athletes from that country including their participation in major international sporting events.”

The U.S. is the largest national contributor to WADA, according to Reuters, accounting for $2.7 million of its 2020 budget of $37.4 million. Half of that budget is paid for by the IOC. Funding cuts by the U.S. would jeopardize its seat on the WADA Foundation Board. More importantly, it could render WADA to deem the nation’s anti-doping programs non-compliant and thus its athletes ineligible for competition in the Olympics and world championships.

The WADA statements led to sniping between Banka and Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, who called it, “anti-American bias.” Banka responded that he “will never let WADA be blackmailed.”

“To threaten one country’s athletes over WADA’s failed governance model is pretty remarkable and disappointing,” Tygart told Reuters. “WADA is very threatened and rattled but to illegally threaten U.S. athletes is shameful. They ought to spend the time trying to fix and make WADA what the world wants it to be, which is a strong independent WADA.

“There’s something wrong when the global regulator attacks one of its key partners that is doing everything to uphold the rules, yet they turn a blind eye to a country like Russia that runs a state-sponsored doping program. The hypocrisy here is incredulous.”

Given the challenges of the global pandemic and the consequent funding shortfalls, it’s an especially critical moment for anti-doping organizations, with the Tokyo Olympics looming in a year.

Jorge Leyva, the CEO of the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organizations, put it more bluntly: “That would simply be a catastrophe for American athletes and the anti-doping system.”

The USADA released a statement Thursday, cosigned by anti-doping agencies in 16 other countries, calling on WADA to go “further and faster” with anti-doping reform. WADA has welcomed more athlete voices in the process. Among the concerns listed by USADA is the recent firing of Russian Anti-Doping head Yuri Ganus.

Not coincidentally, Banka Thursday released an open letter to athletes summarizing his sixth months in the job that not so subtly identifies “political attacks and games” though makes no mention of the United States.

Friday, WADA released a statement ahead of its Sept. 14-15 executive committee meeting that referenced the U.S. threats and included a further statement stressing unity and a desire to work with the U.S. over its concerns. From Banka:

“This matter has been raised by some concerned Governments, not by WADA’s leadership, and as is the case with any proposal raised by a stakeholder, WADA has an obligation to consider it carefully. We will examine the rules to see if they need to be strengthened in light of the current situation. As always, due process will be followed and this will be a matter for discussion and consultation.

“My focus remains absolutely on the welfare of athletes and, for their sakes, we must continue to protect the anti-doping system that has served clean athletes. Fairness for athletes all over the world remains my number-one priority. I will never let clean athletes become hostages of political games. Under the International Standard for Code Compliance by Signatories there are many possible consequences that do not impact the athletes.

“In this critical time for anti-doping, we need unity, not division. I still stand ready to work with the U.S. Government on this and I am hopeful that it will continue to contribute to the global anti-doping program. But what our stakeholders are telling us is that this episode has highlighted the need for more commitment and accountability within the clean sport community. The only way to preserve the global system is for everyone involved to stand united and work together to make it stronger.”

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