Column: WADA Needs Watchdog of Its OwnNovember 17, 2016

Column: WADA Needs Watchdog of Its OwnLooks like the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the agency charged with assuring clean competition at the world’s most important sports competitions, could use a watchdog of its own.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) claims that it’s “responsible for delivering an anti-doping program for the Olympic Games that produces accurate and reliable testing outcomes, and that effectively deters cheating or detects any cheating that nevertheless occurs.” To accomplish this end, the IOC contracts with WADA which in turn employs Independent Observers (IO) to chaperone athletes and collect samples during the Games.

As part of their responsibilities, the IO’s prepared a 55-page report on the drug testing program at the Rio Olympics. The report is a testament to incompetence and failure, which can be attributed directly to the folks at WADA. The goal of IO’s is to “help instill confidence in both athletes and the public in the quality, effectiveness, and reliability of the IOC’s anti-doping program.” Yet the report details a long list of failures that rendered the drug testing program virtually meaningless.

Among the charges are that accreditations given to chaperones failed to include access to press areas, thereby hindering their ability to chaperone athletes selected for testing. IT equipment – computers, printers, copiers and Wi-Fi - was frequently unavailable, inoperable, or inaccessible which made it difficult to access, record and convey necessary information. IO’s didn’t always know which athletes were targeted for testing and even when they did, they sometimes didn’t know their whereabouts.

Furthermore, arrangements for transporting doping control personnel to and from venues were often inadequate or non-existent which means on many occasions they never made it to their assigned destination. And even when the IO’s were able to secure a sample, there were problems at the testing lab. Due to a number of data entry errors, nearly 100 samples analyzed by the lab during the Rio Games were never matched to an athlete.

Ultimately, many athletes targeted for testing in the Athletes Village simply could not be found. As a result, on some days up to 50 percent of planned tests were never executed, although the IO Team admitted that it does not know how many athletes who were targeted for testing at the Games weren’t tested. So much for confidence in the Rio anti-doping program.

This isn’t the first time WADA has dropped the ball at the Olympic Games. The IO report mentions previous recommendations that were designed to remedy oversights. However, those recommendations were never implemented; hence, the same mistakes were repeated in Rio.

If you expected WADA to shoulder any of the blame for the ineptness of the drug testing program in Rio you would be disappointed. Instead, the organization blamed Brazil and the country’s organizing committee. Nor does the IOC acknowledge the utter failure that is detailed in the IO’s report. To the contrary, the IOC lauds the report and the work of the IO’s. On its website the IOC quotes Dr. Richard Budgett, the organization’s medical and scientific director, as saying, “The IO report shows that it was a successful Olympic Games with a successful anti-doping program. The integrity of the program was ensured despite some challenges the Organising Committee had to overcome.” Either Dr. Budgett read a different report than the rest of the world saw or he himself ought to be tested.

The IO team chair, Jonathan Taylor, did concede that the anti-doping program had experienced some issues but claimed a number of positive outcomes had been achieved. "Despite staffing issues, resource constraints and other logistical difficulties, those tasked with implementation of the program, and in particular the volunteers, deserve immense credit for ensuring that the rights of clean athletes were safeguarded," Taylor said. Of course, he’s wrong.

The losers in the entire sordid affair aren’t the Brazilians, the IOC or the incompetent WADA officials. It’s the clean athletes who were denied the protection they were promised and are entitled to as a result of the botched anti-doping program in Rio. That failure detracts from the fairness and credibility of the Games.

Last month WADA called for banning all athletes who have a history of doping from international competition. Here’s a better idea. How about banning any agency, like WADA, that has repeatedly proven incapable of conducting a proper and efficient ant-doping program from conducting testing at world class sporting events?