Liam Morgan ©ITG

Sir Craig Reedie was keen to highlight the changes the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had made during his tenure as President at the Annual Symposium in Lausanne in March.

But the most significant in the organisation’s recent history will come when Sir Craig steps down after six years at the helm in December.

The identity of his successor will be known much sooner. In Montreal on Tuesday (May 14), the public authorities group within WADA will take a decision that will shape the direction of an organisation which is still reeling from the Russian doping scandal.

The Government representatives at the meeting in the Canadian city are hoping to strike a gentleman’s agreement on who should become the fourth WADA President.

Providing all the candidates make it that far, they will choose either Polish Sports Minister Witold Bańka, Dominican Republic’s Marcos Diaz and WADA vice-president Linda Helleland – all of whom are members of the Executive Committee – as their next preferred leader.

Failure to reach a consensus will trigger a vote by secret ballot – the closest WADA has come to a contested election since its formation in 1999.

Common sense dictates the battle is a straight shootout between Bańka, Europe’s nomination, and Diaz, the choice of the Americas, with Helleland’s candidacy remaining an anomaly at this stage as she is proceeding without the backing of her own continent.

The exact list of contenders come the Montreal summit may be uncertain, but one thing is for sure – the winner will have plenty of items to deal with in their newly-inherited in-tray.

Witold Bańka

As the youngest of the three candidates, Bańka believes he can bring a refreshing attitude to the often-complex world of anti-doping.

Yet an old suggestion is the headline pledge made by the 34-year-old – one of two former athletes in the running – should he assume the WADA hotseat.

Bańka has vowed to establish an anti-doping solidarity fund to strengthen National Anti-Doping Organisations, especially in countries which do not even have one, and is asking for sponsors and commercial entities – as well as the Olympic Movement and Governments – to pay for it.

“If television stations are paying to broadcast sports events, why can’t they join this fund?” he asks in his manifesto.

The trouble is, others who have floated this idea have been met with a reluctance from sponsors and companies to financially contribute to anti-doping. In fact, some have gone the opposite way, severing ties with sport following doping and corruption scandals.

Witold Bańka is hoping to replace Sir Craig Reedie at the World Anti-Doping Agency ©Twitter
Witold Bańka is hoping to replace Sir Craig Reedie at the World Anti-Doping Agency ©Twitter

“Sometimes we only focus our attention on big doping scandals, which is important of course, but we are forgetting about blank spots,” Bańka said.

“We analysed the figures from the Rio Olympics and 10 per cent of medallists were from countries which do not have a NADO and have a very weak anti-doping system. It is not a fair environment, so that is why I have proposed this anti-doping solidarity fund.

“We need to enhance the system and give equal treatment to all countries.

“There are cheaters in Russia, in Poland and in the United States, for example, and we should give equal treatment to all of them.”

Another of Bańka’s main aims is to increase the number of WADA accredited laboratories worldwide and especially in Africa, which has just one such facility, located in Bloemfontein in South Africa.

Money generated through the solidarity fund would contribute to the cost, Bańka says, while the Polish official also questioned the WADA administration for failing to financially support an extension of the laboratory network.

“WADA should be more proactive in this area,” he said. “The number of WADA-accredited laboratories in the world is insufficient. NADOs in some regions are forced to send samples to distant laboratories, increasing their expenses.”

In keeping with the current trend, Bańka, a World Championships 4x400 metres bronze medallist and Universiade gold medallist on the track, has promised to increase communication and engagement with athletes.

Bańka says athletes should be the first port of call when it comes to initiating major changes in the anti-doping system, while in one of his more outlandish proposals, he claims it should be an obligation for all NADOs, big and small, to have Athlete Commissions.

“Athletes need to have well-tailored information, we need to explain the procedures and decisions of WADA to them,” he said. “It is not true that WADA only made mistakes and that all decisions are bad, they are just not well-communicated to athletes.”

Raising governance standards and rebuilding the relationships broken amid the fractious fallout to the Russian scandal are among Banka’s other objectives, while he laughed off suggestions he is the candidate cherry-picked by the International Olympic Committee.

Bańka began our brief chat at the symposium by insisting he was not willing to speak about his competitors and wanted to focus on his own manifesto. But he could not resist a thinly-veiled barb at Helleland, who has expressed her scepticism about the European selection process given its strong Polish connection.

“The rules are clear, I was unanimously approved by all the countries and the Council of Europe has very high democracy standards,” he said.

Marcos Diaz

I first encountered Diaz at November’s Foundation Board meeting in Baku, when his candidacy was merely a rumour, and was immediately impressed.

The suave, sharp-looking Dominican spent most of the meeting lobbying for support and was seen extensively outlining his plans to WADA director general Olivier Niggli.

Since then, he has gone from outsider to genuine contender. The feeling at the symposium was that he is a serious threat to his rivals and should not be underestimated.

Diaz may be unfamiliar to some but he is a regular face in anti-doping circles having been an Executive Committee member for four years. He also served on the working group on governance and was part of the commission involved in the creation of the International Testing Agency.

Marcos Diaz is also in the race for the WADA Presidency ©Getty Images
Marcos Diaz is also in the race for the WADA Presidency ©Getty Images

One of Diaz’s headline proposals is to increase the number of representatives from countries he feels have been sidelined and ignored and give them an enhanced role in the decision-making process.

“We want to have the opportunity, not only the Americas, but a third-world country to lead WADA because it will give more of a meaning to the ‘W’ of WADA, which stands for world and has been forgotten in many of the actions taken,” he said.

“We are creating standards for the whole world but it is difficult to put them together in a third-world country, such as in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Leaving that part of the world behind creates doping havens.”

A former marathon swimmer, Diaz conceded the tide had turned significantly against WADA following criticism at the way the organisation handled the Russian scandal but said the crisis had given the global watchdog lessons to learn for the future.

“We need to consider what is needed to detect if another Russia is happening right now,” he said.

“We didn’t have the rules, the sanctions, or standards in place to deal with it.

“We need to look back, which is something that not everyone wants to do, to see what we missed and what we did wrong. Even if this is behind closed doors, we need to do it in order to grow stronger.”

The “Dominican Dolphin”, whose achievements include crossing the Strait of Gibraltar twice and swimming between all five continents, cited building bridges with all anti-doping stakeholders and relations with the IOC among his priorities should he upset the applecart and secure the WADA Presidency.

Like Bańka, he has also stressed the need to look for alternative sources of revenue to bolster WADA’s coffers, claiming he would turn to the private sector to increase the organisation’s budget.

The similarities with his Polish rival do not end there as Diaz also stressed the need to harness the voice of athletes and followed Bańka in suggesting Helleland’s chances of victory are remote.

 “She should have been presented by any other region if she wanted to be a candidate but that didn’t happen,” he said.

“Will a country do that and break a gentleman’s rule? I hope not.”

Linda Helleland

Helleland, the voracious Norwegian who has ruffled all the feathers there are to ruffle in the Olympic Movement since becoming vice-president in 2016, has exuded defiance throughout the process to date.

The former Norwegian Cabinet Minister has refused to give in after losing out to Bańka in the race for the crucial European nomination, pledging to carry on despite the setback.

A staunch critic of the IOC, Helleland has positioned herself as the choice of the athletes and the largely western NADOs whose attacks on WADA have intensified since Russia was controversially reinstated last September.

Crucially, however, neither athletes nor NADOs – rightly or wrongly – have a say in the process to decide the next President. Helleland’s campaign is, therefore, akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the titanic.

A common theme at the symposium was uncertainty as to how Helleland, who lost her place on the Norwegian Cabinet amid a reshuffle earlier this year, can continue.

Perhaps she realises she has gone in this direction for too long to give up now but, regardless of her reasoning, she is committed to “fighting for her values” until the end.

Linda Helleland has been a vocal critic of the International Olympic Committee ©Getty Images
Linda Helleland has been a vocal critic of the International Olympic Committee ©Getty Images

“It has always been my strategy to speak up for what I believe in, not what is the right thing to do to become the next President,” she said.

“I know a lot of people have a hard time with me speaking up but someone has to shake the tree.

“As a vice-president, I am in a position where I represent all the countries in the world and all continents. That is why I don’t need to represent one continent.

“There are many countries reaching out to me and they haven’t decided who they are going to support.”

One group she is not likely to receive backing from is the IOC, who have borne the brunt of her criticism over the past three years.

No matter how well-intentioned her outspoken nature has been, it has ultimately proved counter-productive for Helleland, who was never likely to follow in the footsteps of Sir Craig given her favour for publicly holding the IOC to account.

It may be the turn of the public authorities in the rotational model used for the WADA Presidency but the IOC will still want their preferred candidate installed at the helm.

“I think the IOC are very much involved and with a candidate like me – who has just put on the table legislation giving the IOC a tough time when it comes to good governance – it is hard for them,” she said.

“My motivation has never been to please the IOC, my motivation is for clean sport and for the athletes.”

Ensuring the athlete voice is heard is the main pillar of Helleland’s manifesto, which includes a plan to install an independent athlete ombudsman, a similar pledge to the one made by Bańka, whom she publicly clashed with last November after he urged her to stand down as vice-president for the duration of the campaign.

Helleland has also promised to enhance NADOs through a WADA support programme and improve the strength of the code.

Unfortunately for the 41-year-old, those ideas are likely to fall on deaf ears.

As attention turns to who takes over from Sir Craig, it seems fitting to give the last word to the indomitable Scot as he prepares to bid farewell to WADA following a tumultuous period in charge of the global regulator.

“This has been a complicated period,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the organisation comes out of it with very substantial credit and if some of that bounces back on me, then I will be happy to take it.

“In reality, we have been in the middle of one of the biggest political stand-offs in world affairs.

“Ambassadors are being dismissed, people are being hacked, and in different countries, very serious crimes are being committed. In the middle of all of this, we have been successful in getting the data that we required. I think that reflects very highly on what WADA has done.

“If you look back to the level of activity five years ago, and you see what has improved, particularly if you look at compliance, the development of monitoring, auditing and getting our stakeholders to move from a rules-based organisation to being a very effective delivery organisation, then I think WADA has achieved a great deal.”