THE BIG PICTURE: Banka calls WADA’s budget “ridiculous” and Bach antes $10 million at WADA World Conference

Poland's Minister of Sport & Tourism, Witold Banka, addressing the WADA Conference on Doping in Sport

“It is ridiculous that an organization with the status of a global regulator has a budget of less than 40 million dollars. An average football club has a bigger budget. We must not passively accept the situation. Therefore, I call upon global sports leaders, but also my colleagues who represent governments, as well as private companies: if you want sport to be clean, you need to increase your financial support for the fight against doping in sport.

So said the expected new leader of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Poland’s Witold Banka, 35, a former 400 m runner with a best of 46.11 from 2007 and the Polish Minister of Sport and Tourism since late 2015.

After being confirmed in what is essentially a ceremonial vote later this week by the World Anti-Doping Agency Board, Banka will assume office on 1 January 2020 for a four-year term. He made an impassioned speech in his home area of Katowice (POL) at the start of the World Conference on Doping in Sport on Tuesday, not only asking for more money, but warning of the consequences of not following through.

“Sport is a beautiful idea. The world’s last one with the power to unite people no matter what their political views, religion, skin colour or age. This idea must be protected. We have to prevent corrupting it. If we allow it, this will be the end of sport. People will turn their back against it. They will not want to watch competitions in which faster, higher, stronger will be possible only through cheating. I am afraid that we are already looking into the abyss. Another step forward and we will fall down. We must therefore do everything we can to save this idea.

“To this end, we will sometimes have to take difficult decisions. Yet, I am convinced we will be able to make them. We must not let anyone be above the law, be it a single athlete, a coach or a country. Regardless of who they are, if they violate the rules and act against the idea of clean sport, they should be severely punished.”

International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach (GER) gave an address which focused not just on the issue of athletes and doping, but those that enable them:

“The athlete is not the only culprit.

“The athlete is supported and sometimes even driven to or forced into doping by a secretive network which may include coaches, agents, dealers, managers, officials from government or sport organisations, doctors, physiotherapists or others.

“Sport organisations have the tools to identify and sanction the doped athletes. However, sport organisations do not have sufficient tools to identify and sanction in a deterrent way the athletes’ entourage. This is where we need the full support of the government authorities. They have the necessary authority and tools to take action.

“We need zero-tolerance for everybody: athletes and entourage.”

He illustrated the issue thus: “When, for example, the IOC is identifying a doctor implicated in a doping case, the only thing we can do is to send the doctor home from the Olympic Games and maybe exclude him from future editions of the Games. But after the doctor goes back home, in most cases, he can just continue with his nefarious business without any consequences.

“This is not acceptable. This is the wrong signal. This needs to be changed.”

Bach also had a gift with him: $10 million from the IOC for three specific projects:

(1) Storage of samples taken not only at the Olympic Games, but also during the pre-Games testing period, for 10 years, as well as re-testing of these samples. Cost: $5 million.

(2) Implementation in Tokyo next year of the newly-developed genetic sequencing method to detect blood doping, and more work on the promising program of using “dried blood spot” collection method, which could be both effective and less expensive than current methods. Cost: $2.5 million, conditioned on a match from funding by governments.

(3) Another $2.5 million for the WADA Intelligence and Investigations Unit, also conditioned on a match from governments.

Bach also had some pushback for athlete-critics of the IOC, who have derided the “Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration,” noting that “the IOC Athletes’ Commission consulted with more than 4,200 athletes from 190 NOCs and over 120 disciplines.”

This is a promising start for the next WADA administration as Britain’s Craig Reedie finishes his time as Chair. The Russian compliance situation has not changed and the WADA Compliance Review Committee has yet to make a recommendation, still waiting for more information from the WADA staff regarding Russia’s replies to their questions about the quality of the Moscow Lab data retrieved last January.