New weapons for anti-doping fight


Lausanne (AFP)

World anti-doping chiefs plan to tighten the screws on countries that fail to crack down on drug cheats, but a lack of funding could sink their bid to clean up sport.

The World Anti-Doping Agency, meeting in Lausanne this week, has adopted new powers designed to nip in the bud the kind of state-sponsored doping scheme that was allowed to flourish in Russia from 2011-2015.

Specifically, WADA has listed standards that must be met from April 1 by signatories to its code, who include National Anti-Doping Organisations from member countries as well as sports federations and the International Olympic Committee.

National anti-doping bodies must pledge among other things to run effective testing programmes, implement rapid and effective follow-up procedures and have appropriate investigative means, and also adopt clear rules for Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE).

Failure to do so will land violators in line for tough new WADA sanctions on a sliding scale of severity, as is already the case for offending athletes.

Once abuses are signalled, WADA can automatically move towards a punishment option, which can go as far as barring a country from taking part in the Olympic Games.

- 'Never again' -

"This in my view, honestly, is probably the major achievement in the fight against doping for many years," said Olivier Niggli, WADA's director general, on the sidelines of the Lausanne meeting.

"This is a game changer. Never again will we be facing a situation like we faced in the Russian situation, where in fact we were all unprepared for what happened and we didn't have the legal framework that was necessary to deal with it."

Russia was barred from taking part in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics last month over its state-sponsored doping conspiracy. But that decision was taken by the IOC, not by WADA, and more the 160 Russian athletes eventually competed at the Games as neutral athletes with the blessing of the IOC.

Despite Niggli's comments, doubts remain about how effective WADA's new weapons will be, given that there has been no corresponding increase in funding for the global fight against doping.

"Compliance is going to remain one of the highest priorities for WADA," added Niggli, "and we are going to have to invest more resources into that programme, because you have to realise that we have about a little more than 300 signatories to the code."

WADA operates on an annual budget of around 26-27 million euros ($32-33 million) provided by governments and the IOC, and operations director Frederic Donze said this represented a challenge.

"Today, we face a financial and a human challenge to supervise all the signatories of the world anti-doping code. But that is one of our priorities."

National doping agencies and other signatories will be free to appeal WADA sanctions to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and Graeme Steel, CEO of iNADO, the body that represents national anti-doping agencies, said application of the new programme would not go unchallenged.

"It will always be difficult when the participation of a country at a Games is in question," he said.

"This standard will at least make the process clear, predictable and transparent."