Michael Pavitt ©ITG

If you are looking to get your point of view across, parking your tanks on the White House lawn is a good way of achieving it.

While I was not in Washington D.C., I looked on with interest at the proceedings at the Emergency Anti-Doping Summit when coming back from Lausanne. Somewhat annoyingly it appeared the format of the summit followed the template perfected by those from the Olympic Capital, where statement after statement demanding reform was read out by people all agreeing which each other. Something tells me that has happened before

The following squabble over Linda Helleland’s presence was daft. Whether the Norwegian was there in a WADA capacity or not, her presence was still significant. Equally National Anti-Doping Organisations can be accused of spinning her attendance, as it is obvious she did not represent the majority view of the WADA Executive Committee.

It appears the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are not the only ones capable of playing politics.

Alas.

Amid my annoyance at the format, the NADOs deserve credit for giving the athletes the platform - a very good one at that - to make their case. The mobilisation of athletes has been a long time coming and is a welcome development which hopefully continues going forwards.

The proposals put forward by British Paralympian Ali Jawad titled "The Alternative" seem relatively fair ones. Realistically I do not expect to see 12 independent members of the WADA Executive Committee, with a further three spots taken by former athletes, as such a dramatic swing in the make-up of the body would surely be opposed.

Stronger athlete representation is well overdue, however. While WADA Athletes' Committee chair Beckie Scott does sit in on Executive Committee meetings, she is unable to vote. At the very least the Athletes' Committee chair should be allowed to do that. This step, with a view to greater representation to follow, would be a start and be a step towards healing some divisions.

The selection of any athlete representatives is also key. It seems impossible to assure that the representative will take the majority view held by athletes. From the moment they sit down at the table, they become a politician and will be leaned on, whether it is by NADOs, Governments or sporting bodies. For instance, would a Russian athlete representative have voted in favour of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) reinstatement or with what is being put forward as the dominant athlete position?

Equally, how do you know that the former athlete themselves was "clean" and would that make a difference on whether they would be able to sit on either the WADA Executive or Foundation Boards? Could a former doper offer a different perspective?

Athletes and former athletes do not necessarily share the same opinions. After all, sports governance remains littered with former athletes. IOC President Thomas Bach and IAAF chief Sebastian Coe would be examples of this, with both having been seen to have taken very different stances over Russia.

As my colleague David Owen pointed out a couple of days ago, a broader athlete base is needed moving forwards. As it stands "The Reformers" claim to represent millions of athletes, while the IOC Athletes Commission stated they had consulted a wide range of athletes before taking their stance on Russia. Both cannot be right.

Athletes in the reformers group are by and large coming from the same countries whose NADOs have been up in arms for two years. While I understand in many countries and cultures it is not the norm to speak out against the establishment, they need encourage a wider section of the world to join their cause.

An increased athlete voice in anti-doping matters is clearly a good thing and a big step forward, but it would come with difficulties.

The views of the athletes are currently the reason the WADA boat has been rocked these past couple of months, with coordination coming from the NADOs and seemingly the organisation Fairsport - who appear to be involved yet also attempting to stay on the sidelines.

NADOs calls for reform having fallen on deaf ears over the past two years since their Copenhagen proposals, which are claimed to have been backed by 37 of the bodies.

NADOs main priority appears the complete removal of the IOC from the decision-making process at WADA, with the organisation seemingly viewed to have taken over.

It seems apparent to most people that the IOC’s influence is far too high, particularly given their five - currently down to four - members of the Executive Committee are arguably singing off the same hymn sheet.

Several NADOs have called for reforms of WADA since 2016 but have enjoyed little success ©NADA
Several NADOs have called for reforms of WADA since 2016 but have enjoyed little success ©NADA

The group of 17 NADOs are clearly in a conundrum. They are unable to force change given their lack of representation inside WADA on the Foundation or Executive Boards. Equally as has been claimed, despite their scathing criticisms, that they are fully behind the organisation and do not want to tear it down and start again.

Their latter view appears linked to the presence of the International Testing Agency (ITA), which appears like a back-up hard drive for the IOC in case their influence in WADA is somehow curtailed. I do not think it takes a rocket scientist to work out which NADOs might have provided the "defensive approach" ITA chair Valérie Fourneyron described last month.

While I do think the IOC have too strong a say, I do think sport should have a say in how WADA is run. After all, what organisations give away $16 million (£12 million/€14 million) without a having a voice in how that money is utilised. Just as taxpayers would expect their Governments to be able to have an influence.

It appears no alternative funding model has been put forward, which you could argue NADOs have had two years to devise. Sponsors and broadcasters were previously mentioned as contributing, but that could possibly lead to another series of conflicts of interests.

On WADA’s part, the time has surely come for an open discussion and a more conciliatory tone to be adopted to their critics. Given that one of the members of their Governance Review Committee admitted they did not believe the recommendations have not gone far enough, why not open the topic for a wider discussion.

The more "extreme" recommendations could be published and an explanation could be provided on why they are not set to be adopted. Jawad’s assertion that the discussions have taken place behind closed doors is "unacceptable" is a fair one. An outlining of the reasons why proposals have been chosen may go a way to appeasing the global anti-doping watchdog’s critics.

Thankfully I have been able to take a couple of days away from sport governance, from Travis Tygart against Sir Craig Reedie, foxes and henhouses and the ongoing palaver regarding RUSADA.

WADA should strike a more conciliatory tone with athletes and look to boost their involvement ©WADA
WADA should strike a more conciliatory tone with athletes and look to boost their involvement ©WADA 

Russia has dominated the anti-doping focus for the last couple of years, but there are far more areas that need addressing.

WADA’s announcement they hope to confirm what action they will take with the long-running Operation Puerto saga next May slipped out almost unnoticed amid the barbs this week. The case, almost the precursor to the Russian scandal in terms of obstruction and cover-up, looks unlikely to yield sanctions. However, WADA stated they were working with data protection experts, with the inference they may still seek to name athletes involved.

In the interest of clean sport, the names should be revealed. However, do we need to consider the consequences this could have for athletes long-term, if such a move was approved. Could we find athletes names tossed out into the court of public opinion? Athletes views should surely be consulted over such a move.

Heads also need to be put together to find a way of ensuring equal treatment in legal cases. Given the money that circulates at the highest levels of sport, can we assume the top athletes and teams can access the best lawyers should a case arise, whereas others lower down the scale might not be so fortunate. Equally some International Federations may fear a damaging financial loss should they lose a high profile case, along with NADOs themselves.

Efforts to standardise testing, boost education and ensuring the WADA Code works for athletes and sports surely need to be front and centre. On the latter, WADA’s allowance of the International Cycling Union to conduct their own tests for tramadol could be interesting. Maybe it could be the first step towards a more malleable Code, when federations identify problem areas in their sport and solutions are found.

The Russia situation is important, but lets not pretend it is the sole issue in anti-doping.

Each of the sides in this debate have good points and at times both sides of the debate appear to be saying the same thing. WADA director general Olivier Niggli provided the best example of this.

"The only way to move things forward is to bring people together, so you can have a system that applies to all," he said. "If you do not do that, if you do not bring consensus and bring people together, the ones who are benefited from it are the cheaters who can use a loophole in the system."

Katie Uhlaender, one of the athlete activists, replied on twitter "here we agree".

Maybe it is time to get people away from platforms and put them all around a table.