Liam Morgan

It is little wonder the campaign for President of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has already begun in earnest.

After all, it is less than 12 months until the successor to Sir Craig Reedie is appointed at the World Conference on Doping in Sport in Katowice next November.

The identity of Sir Craig’s replacement will become official at the meeting in the Polish city, one which will be crucial in shaping the future direction of an organisation plunged into crisis following the Russian doping scandal.

But, in reality, we will know many months before who is to take over from the Scot in a job which has become somewhat of a poisoned chalice in recent years.

The exact process to select only the fourth President of WADA in its short history became clearer when the organisation held its biannual Foundation Board meeting in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku earlier this month.

While an "election" is scheduled to take place at the Conference in Katowice from November 5 to 7, a more important date will come in May, when the public authorities group within WADA will hold a vote to decide their preferred candidate for the position.

Judging by the way the campaign has gone so far, this will not detract from the intrigue surrounding the process. In fact, it might even add to it.

The campaign to replace Sir Craig Reedie as WADA President is well underway ©Getty Images
The campaign to replace Sir Craig Reedie as WADA President is well underway ©Getty Images

WADA vice-president Linda Helleland, Polish Sports Minister Witold Bańka, former Dominican Republic marathon swimmer Marcos Diaz and one other, thought to be from Asia but who has not publicly declared their intention to stand, are currently vying to be the one put forward for the role by the Government representatives.

In Baku, the public authorities decided they would nominate a solitary official to become the next President of WADA prior to the next gathering of the Foundation Board in Montreal in May, effectively ending the need for an election in Katowice.

It is hoped they will be able to reach a consensus on who that person might be but, if that is not possible, a secret ballot will be held when they convene for their usual pre-Foundation Board meeting in the city which WADA calls home.

Those contenders who fail to secure the public authority nomination have been explicitly told to cease campaigning after this date, a demand that was made in no uncertain terms in a proposal distributed by the group to the Foundation Board in Azerbaijan’s capital.

"Public authorities agree to nominate only one candidate to the Foundation Board and interested candidates will be expected to agree not to pursue their campaigns in case they are not successful to secure sufficient support of the public authorities," the document, seen by insidethegames, read.

It will be interesting to see whether this warning is heeded or ignored by those in contention. After all, it remains possible the unsuccessful candidates may embark on their own behind-the-scenes campaign to court the support of the sport movement representatives to get them to lobby their peers in the public authorities group.

Such a scenario is hypothetical, but it would certainly concur with the dirty tricks and politics we have already seen even at this early stage.

The bitter and acrimonious race to date began with a ludicrous line in the initial public authorities document, which stated that candidates must be over the age of 45.

The proposal was supposedly written by the African union of Government representatives, although doubt has been cast on this theory by sceptics who thought it was designed to exclude Helleland, an outspoken official who is not universally popular in WADA circles, from standing.

Ironically, in the unlikely event the rule became reality, all three candidates would have been unable to run for President. Such was the ridiculousness of the proposal, the public authorities would have got what they deserved had that been the case.

WADA vice-president Linda Helleland is among the candidates for the top job at the anti-doping organisation ©Getty Images
WADA vice-president Linda Helleland is among the candidates for the top job at the anti-doping organisation ©Getty Images

Following the debacle concerning the document from the public authorities, which deserves to be labelled as a storm in a teacup, the diatribe stepped up a notch in an out-of-the-blue statement from former professional athlete Bańka.

As I sat watching the Karate World Championships in Madrid at the beginning of the month, an email from his PR representative dropped into my inbox. Its contents were largely an attack on Helleland, claiming the Norwegian should step down as vice-president for the duration of the campaign as her position gave her an unfair advantage.

Banka, initially thought to be the favoured candidate of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and sports movement, also criticised Helleland’s appearance at the now infamous anti-doping summit at the White House.

Helleland's team were originally reticent to respond but, given the traction Bańka seemed to gain, they eventually performed a U-turn, calling his comments "offensive" and labelling them as "politically-motivated" - a common reaction to any criticism these days.

While Helleland and Banka were publicly at loggerheads, Diaz, whose biography lists achievements including swimming the English Channel, was slowly working in the corridors to gain backing for his own shot at the top job.

It seems a smart move from the 43-year-old Dominican, who then gave an impressive performance at the closing Foundation Board press conference.

Diaz wasted little time when WADA spokesperson James Fitzgerald asked the panel if anyone wished to intervene, giving an impassioned and well-thought out speech on governance reform and other issues facing the anti-doping movement. It was a campaign speech if ever we have seen one.

After the meeting finished, Diaz spent the rest of his evening moving from table-to-table, lobbying everyone from sports officials within WADA to director general Olivier Niggli.

Diaz has his own issues back home, including confusion surrounding the validity of the Dominican Anti-Doping Organisation, and it remains to be seen whether he can convince the public authorities he is a strong enough figurehead to lead WADA out of the mire.

He will also need to persuade IOC members, who yield considerable influence when it comes to determining the WADA President even when it is not their turn.

Those IOC members are never going to accept Helleland, given the criticism she has given them throughout the Russian doping scandal. The Norwegian, though, appeared to have changed tack in Baku, perhaps realising public outbursts about the state of WADA and the IOC were hindering, rather than helping, her campaign.

Sergio Ramos is the subject of anti-doping controversy revealed by the Football Leaks group but denies wrongdoing ©Getty Images
Sergio Ramos is the subject of anti-doping controversy revealed by the Football Leaks group but denies wrongdoing ©Getty Images

The Norwegian Minister of Children and Equality's nature may not be to everyone's liking but at least she dares to stick her head above the parapet, the latest example of which coming when she commented on the case involving Real Madrid star Sergio Ramos.

German magazine Der Spiegel reported that Ramos, a World Cup winner with Spain in 2010, tested positive after the 2017 Champions League final but was cleared of wrongdoing by UEFA after his doctor admitted to inputting the wrong substance on his doping control form.

A second charge against Ramos, who denies ever being involved in doping, claimed he took a shower before a drugs test in April of this year in blatant contravention of anti-doping rules.

Helleland was among those to express her concern at the way it had been handled, seemingly suggesting there was one rule for footballers when it comes to doping and another for athletes from other less high-profile sports. 

She is also right in hinting how the case is symptomatic of the arrogant attitude football has to doping.

"We must ensure that all athletes are treated equally and fair," Helleland said.

"It is one set of rules and testing procedures applying to all athletes regardless of sport and competition level."

Helleland deserves praise for comments such as those, even if they do not sit well in sporting corridors, as administrators are often too happy to stay quiet on issues directly affecting the organisation they are supposed to represent.

Expect the noises from the Norwegian and the other candidates to ramp up a notch or two as the campaign continues.