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Move on Russia prompts call at White House for anti-doping reform

The athletes from the Russian Federation entering the stadium at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics. (Jude Freeman/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The White House has joined with a growing number of prominent athletes and anti-doping officials in calling for an overhaul of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in the wake of its controversial decision to reinstate Russia last month.

“We are asking for systematic and deep change,” James Carroll, deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said at a gathering of WADA critics at the White House on October 31.

“We are united in calling for the World Anti-Doping Agency to provide stronger leadership on behalf of clean competition,” he said.

WADA has moved to reinstate Russia’s anti-doping agency after a three-year ban for allegedly running a state-sponsored doping scheme.

Critics say WADA ended Russia’s ban without forcing it to meet the stringent conditions WADA originally laid out in 2015, when evidence of widespread Russian doping emerged, such as requiring the leadership of Russia to acknowledge the state’s role in allegedly covering up doping violations.

Linda Helleland, Norway’s youth minister and a WADA vice president who opposed Russian reinstatement, told the White House gathering that the agency needed reform. She is a candidate to become WADA chairperson in an election to be held next year.

Also attending were athletes and anti-doping leaders from Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

Their joint statement urging reform at WADA came after a similar statement issued by 18 national anti-doping authorities on October 29.

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart, an outspoken critic of WADA’s handling of Russian doping, said the move for change at the agency had reached a “tipping point.”

The White House group’s joint statement said that “WADA must be reformed to make it stronger and more accountable to clean athletes in order for governments, the public, and athletes to continue to support and believe in it.”

The group is calling for reforms such as no longer including active sport leaders in WADA’s leadership, and giving a greater role to the views of individual athletes.

WADA’s current president, Craig Reedie, is a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which critics say presents a conflict of interest and compromises his objectivity.

Reedie has defended Russia’s reinstatement, calling it a necessary step to compel Russia to turn over urine samples and data that could corroborate evidence of a state-run doping scheme.

Russia faces a December 31 deadline to hand over the information, and WADA could issue new sanctions if Russia does not comply.

WADA, in a statement, dismissed the White House meeting as an invitation-only gathering of those disagreeing with its decision on Russia.

“We welcome debate on this issue and we promote people’s right to discuss and push for reforms. But unfortunately, it would seem as though only one side of the story was heard in Washington,” WADA said.

WADA said if supporters of Russian reinstatement were there they “would have been able to bring perspective to the debate, to explain why the decision to reinstate RUSADA, under strict conditions, was the right one for clean sport.”

But several prominent athletes disagreed.

“We need a truly independent international anti-doping regulator free of conflicts of interest,” tweeted U.S. swimming star Katie Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion who sent a video message to the gathering.

Russian runner and doping whistle-blower Yulia Stepanova, who with husband Vitaly Stepanov exposed the alleged Russian doping scheme, said “my husband and I are not just fighting doping, but are increasingly fighting IOC and WADA.”