Statement on the future of the Anti-Doping Movement
by Vicki Aggar, WADA Athlete Committee Member, Chair if the British Athletes Commission and Former Great Britain Paralympic Rower
Thursday 20th September marked one of the worst days in the history of sport. The decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), an organisation I have been proud to represent for a number of years, was one which I was not proud of. It was without doubt the most devastating day in the history of anti-doping; and it’s no exaggeration to say that in many ways the decision WADA made sounded the death knell for the anti-doping movement as we know it. Given the significance of the decision, and from speaking to athletes across Britain and the world, it’s safe to say that anti-doping will never be quite the same ever again.
Over the last week, the athletes have spoken as one. From Germany to Australia, Canada to the UK, the USA to the Netherlands, and New Zealand to South Africa, the response against WADA’s proposed, and then confirmed, U-Turn has been overwhelming. The noise has been deafening. Athletes in every continent stood up and spoke for the overwhelming majority when they said: we abhor cheating and it has no place in sport. It will not be tolerated and, when committed on a systematic deep-rooted scale, it must have consequences. Regrettably, WADA the organisation I have represented for so many years, failed to represent the majority. Instead, it spoke for a very, very small minority. It prioritised the rights of a small handful of sports administrators around a Board table ahead of the rights of millions of clean athletes. And, why? Perhaps we will never know.
As someone that has been proud to stand up for clean athletes - particularly in my role on the WADA Athlete Committee and as Chair of the British Athletes Commission – I cannot shy away from the simple fact that there was a far bigger issue at stake yesterday than Russian reinstatement. The issue at stake was about the type of WADA that would emerge from its meeting in the Seychelles. Regrettably, the WADA that emerged was the opposite of what the world wanted to see: one that failed to listen to the athlete and public mood across the world, and that, if it did listen, chose to ignore us anyway. The overriding reaction from athletes, sports fans and the media since then has rightly been that the decision was embarrassingly out-of-touch. As a leader that represents the views of clean athletes, I cannot sit here and pretend that the decision represented me or the world’s clean athletes. It did not.
As in the aftermath of any major decision, there is rightly some reflection on what course of action should be taken for the future. In my case, what is the right course of action for clean athletes. One thing has become abundantly clear the past week: sports politics must never again be allowed to overrule the rights of clean athletes. Athletes have made it clear that WADA, or any future global anti-doping authority that emerges in its place if that is to be what comes from this crisis, has to have full independence and authority. Athletes have made it clear in recent days that the global anti-doping authority must stretch itself loose from the International Olympic Committee if it is to thrive – it must keep at arms’ length from sports administrators if it is to rebuild. WADA has made some great strides in its first 19 years, but it has now been exposed for its lack of “teeth” and its lack of regulatory powers. That has to change, and change immediately.
The initial reaction many might assume I would now take, given the strength of my opinion – and that of many other athletes - would be to tender my resignation from the WADA Athlete Committee. To call it a day on the Committee I have previously been proud to represent, and to play no further part in the WADA that I have lost faith in. But I have given this lots of thought the past 24 hours, and asked myself what that will achieve.
The WADA of today no longer represents my interests, nor those of the millions of clean athletes that are rightly outraged at yesterday’s decision. My heart has told me that I should resign, but my head tells me I must fight on; and fight from within to overhaul the WADA that is in such desperate need of reform if it is ever to restore the lost confidence of sports lovers worldwide. I have concluded that, if I were to resign today, I would be admitting defeat; defeat for the WADA that has slowly and sadly become an extension of the IOC in all but name. But athletes don’t do defeat, particularly not for the most important cause in global sport. Athletes rise again, and continue to pursue their ambitions with passion and dogged determination to succeed.
The message sent by WADA yesterday may mean we have lost the clean sport battle on behalf of the athletes and fans, but I am determined that, through dogged determination, we will win the war and that people’s faith in sport will one day rise again. Therefore, I have decided to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the WADA Athlete Chair Beckie Scott who, time and time again, has put principle above politics, sensed the public mood and spoken for the voice of the clean athletes; the voice of the overwhelming majority.
Alongside Beckie, and the other champions of clean sport I have been privileged to work alongside, I will now work with the anti-doping leaders that do listen to athletes – and I know there are many – the leaders that do stand up for clean sport and that do represent the majority. Today, as someone that is proud to Chair the British Athletes’ Commission and as someone that will do everything in her power to repair the fragile remnants of trust that are left in the World Anti-Doping Agency, I want the clean athletes to know that they have my full commitment; I want them to know that I will strive to ensure their interests are always paramount, and that their interests, from this day forward, will be heard around the Board table without fail.
As clean athlete representatives, we must leave no option off the table for how best to reboot the clean sport movement so that it is athlete-centred, in-touch with sports fans and fit for purpose in 2018. Yesterday, faith in sport hit rock bottom, but I am confident that with athlete dedication and effort to the cause, that faith can rise again.
The work of rebooting the anti-doping movement starts today.