April 24th, 2012
At the time that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was established, accusations of weak leadership and the lack of the required political will to take firm action on doping control were being made from various quarters. These accusations or perceptions presented a challenge to the IOC’s legitimacy and credibility since the organisation, some felt, did not want to tackle the problem head on. Cynics claimed the IOC leadership did not want to acknowledge that doping was an issue as the problem carried with it sport politics and commercial undertones.
In other words, the image of the IOC and the Olympic Games was more important than facing up to the truth. To combat the perception, Juan Antonio Samaranch and the IOC convened a world conference on doping in sport. Coming out of that conference, WADA was formed with a mandate to co-ordinate drug testing. The road to clean sport is a complex interdependence. There has to be rules but not at the expense of other rules. WADA exists in a symbiotic relationship with the sport stakeholders and cannot exist in a vacuum because its actions have profound effects.
That WADA can challenge the autonomy of the British Olympic Association (BOA), in defiance of the Olympic Charter is a plight that deserves little sympathy as it is the result of a leadership failure on the part of the IOC. Those who understand the cancer that is cheating and doping know that zero tolerance is a key weapon if the playing field is to be kept level for the clean athletes. Gray areas and legal technicalities are a win for cheaters. In the early years the IOC needed to be protected from itself and from accusations of hypocrisy and a lack of political will on the issue of doping. WADA was convenient and some will argue necessary. In 2004 when the IOC included in the Olympic Charter a mandate that all National Olympic Committees (NOCs) must adopt and implement the WADA code, did the IOC executive board and its legal experts consider the possible contradictions and potential issues?
Rule 27 (3) of the Olympic Charter states that the NOCs have the exclusive authority for the representation of their respective countries at the Olympic Games. Rule 27 (5) says that NOCs shall not associate themselves with any activity which would be in contradiction with the Olympic Charter and Rule 27 (6) is very clear that NOCs must preserve their autonomy and resist all pressures of any kind, including but not limited to political, legal, religious or economic pressures which may prevent them from complying with the Olympic Charter. But book sense is not common sense. If WADA can order a NOC to select an athlete found guilty of intentional cheating then why can’t a government or a sponsor dictate to a NOC who to select ? Now that the principle of NOC autonomy may be broken, where will it end?
The IOC got the Olympic movement into this situation in the first place. They must now clarify the matter because there are consequences when leadership is delegated. One—but not the only one—threat to the credibility, image and sustainability of the Olympic Games as a premier event is doping and dopers. One of the fundamental objectives of the WADA code is to protect the fundamental right of athletes to participate in doping free sport. The Olympic movement’s desire to be tough on doping, and the rules of the agency it founded to police them are at odds. That the issue of who a National Olympic Committee (NOC) can select is to be determined on a legal issue of compliance with the WADA code is farcical.