POSTED: February 18th 2013

JOHN GOODBODY: IOC must sort out tensions in drugs summit

The headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland / SFC
The headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland / SFC

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February 18 - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will oversee a drugs summit is to be held in Lausanne this spring because of the growing tensions betwen the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and several of sport’s international governing bodies.

The meeting has been called following a letter from the President of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) to the IOC President Dr. Jacques Rogge. In it, Francesco Ricci Bitti, said:”Relations with the WADA have deteriorated significantly and the lack of help and support from the WADA against a background of constant media criticism of its sports ‘partners’ and the consequent breakdown of trust need to be addressed as a priority.”

Andrew Ryan, the ASOIF director, added: ”Things have deteriorated into a war of words. Things have reached a low point. There is a real fear that if it goes any further then the level of co-operation will go even lower.”

The row centres on the attacks by WADA officials of the way that the International Cycling Union (UCI) has handled the inquiry into Lance Armstrong, as well as several criticisms of the drug-testing regime in sports such as tennis and football.

The Wada was set up in 1999, with the IOC underwriting 50 percent of the costs with the remainder coming from governments. The presidency alternates between the Olympic Movement and a representative of governments. The Canadian lawyer, Dick Pound, was the first president and his successor is John Fahey, an Australian politician.

In the early stages of his presidency, Fahey made little impact, certainly compared to his predecessor, who combined a lawyer’s brain with a long-time knowledge of sports politics and particularly of the issues involved in drugs. However, Fahey has grown into the job and, in the last year, has had the confidence and knowledge to be more cogent and perceptive.

The WADA has progressed under his presidency, despite some mistakes. Chief among these were the attitude of the Wada towards the British Olympic Association (BOA), when it tried to maintain its ban on British competitors taking part in the Games if they had been suspended for a serious drugs offence. The WADA was bound to follow the ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the case of LaShawn Merritt, when the American sprinter was facing being barred by the IOC from the London Games for a drugs offence under what known as the Osaka rule.

Nevertheless, the lack of sympathy for the BOA, who were only doing what the British athletes wanted, meant that the Wada received some damaging, albeit deserved, criticism and were seen, certainly in Britain, as being ’weak  on drugs.’

However, its staunch approach to the problems in cycling, where drug-taking has been endemic, and its determination to have stricter regimes in other sports have resulted in a series of rows with officials of several  governing bodies.

The IOC needs to stand firm here, although, of course, listening to the complaints of ASOIF, all of whose organisations have signed up to the WADA Code. The WADA has been charged by the IOC and governments with the task of leading the crusade against drug-taking and there are far too many governing bodies with vested interests –no one wants a positive test in their sport when they are trying to raise sponsorship and get television contracts. Far too many governing bodies have also been half-hearted in their approach to doping, naively believing that illicit substances cannot help competitors in their sport.

The WADA is, at least, an independent entity and the IOC should be reluctant to curb the work it is doing and hopefully  will do with even greater success in the future.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · John Goodbody · IOC · WADA · anti-doping

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