Witold Bańka

Today is Play True Day, an opportunity for the world to come together to promote the values of respect and integrity in sport and the protection of clean sporting competition. 

Play True Day raises awareness about the importance of clean sport and what it means to so many millions of people around the world. Each year on this day, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) invites athletes, National and Regional Anti-Doping Organisations, Sports Federations, Governments, major event organisers and any other organisation and individual from around the world interested in the integrity of sport to be united, to stand arm in arm with WADA, and let it be known that attempts to cheat by doping will not be tolerated by the vast majority of people in the sporting world.

WADA is very grateful to all of you who embrace the spirit of this day and stand shoulder to shoulder with us as we encourage everyone to Play True. It is this unified and collegial approach that must prevail on each of the other 364 days of the year if we are to work together towards a world of clean sport.

Today is a good occasion to ask ourselves a key question: 22 years after WADA’s creation, is an athlete more likely to participate in a doping-free sporting environment? To me, the answer is clearly yes. 

Since 1999, the extent and sophistication of the fight against doping in sport has dramatically increased and improved in all areas - from education, capacity and capability building, science and testing, to developments of compliance monitoring and relatively new strategies such as investigations. 

Overall, harmonisation of this wide range of activities across all sports in all countries has been a remarkable success in such a short time, bringing fairness to all athletes covered by the world anti-doping programme. Think about it. The programme's detailed rules - laid out in the World Anti-Doping Code and its eight related International Standards - have achieved unprecedented international acceptance and cooperation, and the end result is that we have a system today that works - and works well.

All of anti-doping’s biggest achievements have been the result of cooperation. WADA itself, as the global anti-doping regulator, is a unique 50-50 partnership between the Sports Movement and Governments of the world. The World Anti-Doping Code and the International Standards harmonise the system for all countries and sports around the world and are the result of many years of constructive input and compromise by thousands of people, including athletes, in the anti-doping ecosystem. 

Annual updates to the list of prohibited substances and methods are only possible because experts from the fields of science, medicine and law get together and make informed decisions based on facts. Scientific and social research has made enormous breakthroughs in recent years through collaboration between laboratories, universities and funding bodies - often with direct involvement of athletes and their support personnel. Effective programmes of education, intelligence sharing and investigations also benefit from constant collaboration. Within WADA itself, more than 140 hugely dedicated, capable and innovative individuals from almost 50 countries, collaborate daily with our global partners to preserve the integrity of sport.

There have been significant advances in testing and analysis at laboratories ©Getty Images
There have been significant advances in testing and analysis at laboratories ©Getty Images

Does it mean the global anti-doping system is perfect? No, I haven’t heard anyone claim that it is. Can it be improved? Of course it can - and it must improve if we want to further protect athletes’ dreams. 

This will require the commitment of all, starting with all Anti-Doping Organisations around the world - National Anti-Doping Organisations, International Federations, major event organisers in particular – that are signatories to the World Anti-Doping Code. 

It is extremely regrettable in my view that nearly 50 of these signatories have still not adopted revised anti-doping rules in line with the 2021 World Anti-Doping Code close to one-and-a-half years after the adoption of this document and more than three months after it came into force. It is also worrying that WADA’s compliance monitoring programme and investigations continue to identify some serious shortcomings in the programs of some experienced Anti-Doping Organisations. What this tells me is that the anti-doping community must renew its focus on ensuring quality anti-doping programs and compliance with the agreed rules and processes if we are to move closer to a world of clean sport.

WADA itself needs to step up some of its activities, in line with our 2020-2024 Strategic Plan. In particular, I believe that we need to further strengthen our compliance monitoring work, and I am confident that this will happen when the logistical challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic are behind us. 

We need to spend more time and energy on developing and delivering innovations in all areas of the fight against doping, including in doping detection methods. We also need to further develop the areas where we have broken new grounds and led the way, such as intelligence and investigations.

This is particularly important as the anti-doping community looks ahead to another busy period with the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. WADA is supporting the work of the pre-Games testing group set up by the International Testing Agency (ITA) and funded by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which aims to ensure that athletes competing at the Games have been subject to a suitable level of testing in the lead-up to the event through cooperation between International Federations, National and Regional Anti-Doping Organisations. 

An independent observer programme will be in operation at Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images
An independent observer programme will be in operation at Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images

WADA is also supporting the long-term sample storage facility and programme - funded by the IOC - that offers to keep samples collected and analysed by International Federations, National and Regional Anti-Doping Organisations for up to 10 years, for possible future analysis. This is an important and very positive initiative that, again, relies on the collaboration of numerous stakeholder groups.

We have cooperated with both the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee to develop education programmes specifically tailored for athletes and their support personnel who will attend the Tokyo Games. And we will have a WADA Independent Observer Programme - composed of experts from WADA and various other Anti-Doping Organisations - in Tokyo to monitor the anti-doping activities at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games to ensure that a robust anti-doping programme is delivered. 

Despite COVID-19 and other challenges for anti-doping, I remain optimistic for clean sport. Now more than ever, we owe it to the world’s best athletes to provide them with the opportunity to gather on a level playing field and to entertain and amaze us with their athletic prowess and sense of fair play. There will continue to be challenges along the way but, on this Play True Day, I hope and am confident that, if we work together today and every day, we will succeed in further strengthening the global anti-doping system for the benefit of all athletes.