US holding $2.93 million, still seeking reforms from WADA

The U.S. government is holding on to nearly $3 million earmarked for the World Anti-Doping Agency, with plans to pay only if it sees “real progress and a path for more substantial future reforms” out of the global drug-fighting organization.

The White House drug-control office delivered an updated report to Congress on Monday in advance of WADA meetings scheduled for later this week.

The report comes some 11 months after the U.S. first threatened to withhold its 2021 payment to WADA, which normally would have been delivered in the first quarter of the year. The $2.93 million accounts for about 7.3% of WADA’s $40 million budget.

The U.S. has complained that it isn’t well represented in the agency — though it has picked up spots on some advisory panels, it has no seat on the 14-member executive committee that shapes most policies — and has been critical of WADA’s handling of the Russian doping scandal that upended international sports since before the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Last summer, Congress received its first report from the White House drug-control office, which suggested the U.S. did not get its money’s worth from what it gives to WADA each year. WADA responded by suggesting it might sanction countries that do not pay dues. Congress then gave the drug-control office authority to withhold payment to WADA and asked for an updated report on WADA’s reforms.

It delivered a 32-page report that noted progress in WADA’s long-running attempts to provide more transparency and ethical accountability.

“There is more work to be done in this area and, in collaboration with all of our diverse stakeholders, including the U.S. Government, we will continue to make meaningful improvements,” WADA President Witold Bańka said in a response that highlighted the points of agreement between his agency and the U.S.

The report also included 10 proposals for WADA to further improve its operation, the most extreme of which would eliminate members of the IOC and other related sports entities from the executive committee.

The report noted that when WADA was formed in 1999, it wasn’t unthinkable to hand the IOC half the decision-making seats because it was funding half the operation. But times have changed, the report said, and more independent voices are needed in the highest reaches of WADA’s policy-making offices.

“It is important to consider … whether it best serves sport for WADA to have embedded within its critically important international doping regulator a de facto voting majority by the very industry being regulated,” the report said.

The government also asked for more truly independent athletes in important roles — WADA is working on changes, but some athletes are still appointed to committees by the IOC or their own countries’ national Olympic organizations — and for WADA to push for reforms at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which has the ultimate say on most doping cases.

CAS recently watered down the final set of WADA sanctions against Russia.

“To be effective in combating doping, including state-sponsored doping, such as that perpetuated by the corrupt Russian scheme … there needs to be an independent body to review WADA anti-doping decisions,” the report read.

Though the tone of the report was less provocative than some of the rhetoric delivered in the past, the conclusions were remarkably similar: WADA needs to change and there’s real money on the line if it doesn’t.

“It spells out what the office is going to look for in deciding whether to pay the money or not,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “It means meaningful reform, and that means substantial and significant progress on all 10 of the challenges set forth in the report.”

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