Global athletes and anti-doping leaders called Wednesday for major reforms of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) after its controversial reinstatement of Russia.
WADA's move in September after a three-year ban for running a state-sponsored doping scheme has drawn worldwide criticism and calls for urgent reform at the Canada-based global doping watchdog.
"We aren't just asking for WADA to change. We are asking for systematic and deep change," said James Carroll, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy deputy director. "We are united in calling for the World Anti-Doping Agency to provide stronger leadership on behalf of clean competition."
Linda Helleland, Norway's youth minister and a WADA vice president who opposed Russian reinstatement, was joined in attendance by 14 athletes and anti-doping leaders from Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom.
"Athletes have started a march, a march for transparency, independence and change," said Helleland, a contender in next year's WADA chairmanship election.
Critics say WADA ended Russia's ban without forcing it to meet stringent standards as originally outlined, a move welcomed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) but reviled by athletes.
"We need a truly independent international anti-doping regulator free of conflicts of interest," tweeted US swim star Katie Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion who sent a video message to the gathering.
"WADA has failed the athletes," 2017 world steeplechase champion Emma Coburn said. "It has bullied and disheartened athlete voices."
As British Olympic gold medal cyclist Callum Skinner put it: "WADA and IOC have put autocracy over accountability and politics over principle. Athletes have woken up and found voice. It's up to WADA and IOC to start listening and act."
Russian runner and doping whistleblower Yuliya Stepanova, who with husband Vitaliy Stepanov exposed the Russian doping scheme, said she sees WADA and the IOC as opponents.
"My husband and I are not just fighting doping but are increasingly fighting IOC and WADA," Stepanova told the gathering, according to USADA. "We now know WADA does not follow its own rules, even though athletes are asked to."
- 'Tipping point' for reform -
The meeting declared in a statement 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."
"Confidence in clean sport is at an all-time low. Athletes and sports fans across the globe have lost confidence in the commitment, resolve, and willingness of WADA to stand up for the ideals upon which it was founded."
The group called for WADA's governance structure to be overhauled with active sport leaders not in WADA leadership roles, an inquiry into accusations of WADA bullying and intimidation, greater effort to respect athlete voices, including athlete executive committee memberships and transparency for securing all lab data and anti-doping samples from Russia.
"Athletes shouldn't have to shoulder the burden of fixing WADA but here they are, along with national anti-doping leaders, doing WADA's job for them," US Anti-Doping Agency chief executive Travis Tygart said. "Today was the tipping point."
- WADA: 'Only one side heard' -
WADA, in a statement, dismissed the meeting as an invitation-only gathering of those disagreeing with WADA's 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 the move 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."
Edwin Moses, a two-time world and Olympic 400m hurdles champion, said WADA needs less appeasement and more robust anti-doping attitudes.
"We need decisions to be made in a much more transparent and open fashion," Moses said. "We want a radically transformed and improved WADA that fulfills its potential... as the policing body of sport not as an extension of the IOC."
© 2018 AFP