David Owen

What does the future hold for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)? 

Having spent the weekend reading its newly-published 2016 annual report, I feel little the wiser, except to say that it looks like November's Foundation Board meeting will have a crowded agenda.

I have said before that I think those running the Montreal-based body have the most difficult job in sport, and there is an assertion in the joint President and director general's message in the new document which for me encapsulates one of the things that make it so tough.

"We believe," say Sir Craig Reedie and Olivier Niggli, "that we have been successful in our mission".

And, yes, in terms of constructing a uniform global framework establishing procedures and norms for the fight against doping, a very great deal has been accomplished by the compliance regulator since 1999.

How, though, do you think an ordinary sports fan would interpret being "successful in our mission" for a body called the World Anti-Doping Agency?

Eradicating or achieving a sharp and demonstrable reduction in doping, surely.

And there's the rub: if the system is catching lots of cheats, sports fans conclude wearily that the problem must still be rife; if the system is catching no-one, sports fans conclude, in these cynical times, not that we are winning the battle, but that the cheats are getting away with it.

Since it is incredibly difficult in this shadowy, deceitful world to establish beyond question that the percentage of competitors using illicit performance-enhancing drugs is falling, it is almost impossible to combat this mindset, at least in the short term.

Olivier Niggli, left, and Sir Craig Reedie, right, believe that WADA has been "successful with their mission" ©Getty Images
Olivier Niggli, left, and Sir Craig Reedie, right, believe that WADA has been "successful with their mission" ©Getty Images

And no doubt the succession of positive tests from samples stored post-Beijing 2008 and London 2012 has reinforced the views of those inclined to be cynical.

This would be a problem in any event for WADA, but it is doubly so for a body that gets 50 per cent of its funding from public authorities.

It is hard enough getting money out of Governments with schools to build and territories to defend at the best of times, let alone if Ministers share their populations' suspicions that the system they are helping to pay for is not achieving the desired results.

One thing which the new report does reveal is that WADA's collection rate from public authorities last year sunk to its lowest level since 2007.

I do not have the evidence to link this trend to scepticism about the effectiveness of the efforts that WADA and many other bodies are making.

I note, however, that after years of having to fight tooth and nail for any budget increase, WADA has started to turn its attentions elsewhere.

"We appreciate that there are limits to our traditional funding model," the report states, "and that, to go as far as we believe is necessary to protect clean athletes, we will have to explore additional funding strategies".

It gives the example of a private "Foundation for Clean Sport" in the United States, saying that this will seek contributions from "the likes of pharmaceutical companies, foundations and private donors".

Going forward, WADA says, "additional funding will be essential to maintain the agency’s current core activities". Its core activities.

It makes the point that, having peaked at $6.6 million (£5.1 million/€5.5 million) in 2006, its budget for scientific research had dwindled to $1.9 million (£1.5 million/€1.6 million) for the current year - although it is also true to say that the special research fund received from Governments, and matched by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), remains at the agency's disposal.

Not surprisingly, it ran up another deficit in 2016. This came to just under $730,000 (£565,000/€612,500), though the operating deficit was higher at nearly $1.2 million (£929,000/€1 million).

Convincing the public the battle against doping is being won is a tough ask ©Getty Images
Convincing the public the battle against doping is being won is a tough ask ©Getty Images

While one of the reasons cited - the cost of investigations - was not surprising, the other was, certainly to me.

This was a write-down of assets, "namely development of the new anti-doping administration and management system (ADAMS)".

 The financial statements appear to quantify this write-down at $1.35 million (£1.04 million/€1.13 million).

As WADA subsequently explained to me, "The provider chosen to re-develop ADAMS fell short of our objectives and could not produce the desired result.

"Thus cost of development with this provider was written off.

"Since then, the project has been repositioned, new leadership put in place and a new partner/provider was brought on board."

ADAMS - which serves as a data repository for athlete whereabouts, laboratory results, the athlete biological passport, therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) and information on anti-doping rule violations - is quite simply critical for WADA’s efficient functioning.

So this must be interpreted as a serious setback, not just financially.

Having checked back in WADA’s 2015 annual report, I see that new ADAMS was originally projected for release in late 2016.

Sir Craig Reedie's WADA have faced problems with their ADAMS system ©Getty Images
Sir Craig Reedie's WADA have faced problems with their ADAMS system ©Getty Images

I also see that the "Korean Government", presumably South Korea, agreed to make a $200,000 (£154,800/€167,800) contribution to its development. I suspect some of my younger colleagues might now label that "hashtag awkward".

The "repositioning" does not seem to be related to last year's widely reported attack by the Fancy Bears.

WADA says of this: "In September 2016, the cyber espionage group 'Fancy Bear' started releasing batches of confidential athlete TUE data on their website, which they illegally obtained from a Rio Summer Games account.

"The hackers used a phishing scheme to obtain ADAMS passwords from users.

"The hackers did not access the broader ADAMS system."