International Ski Federation (FIS) President Gian Franco Kasper believes the world’s top anti-doping agency had overstepped its bounds in punishing countries who do not comply with its code, according to in a recent interview with Inside The Games.
The 72-year-old Swiss has been a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Executive Committee since 2003. He has also been a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 2000, and currently heads the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations.
“I have been long enough in the Executive Board of WADA to have my ideas about the restructuring and about what is necessary,” Kasper said in the interview. “It [WADA] should be a testing and technical body rather than making political decisions. Politics should not be in the hands of WADA.”
His view may ultimately come down to one question: is it the job of anti-doping agencies to suspend individual athletes, or to ensure that entire national sports systems comply with the WADA Code? Kasper appears to come down on the side of the former, as he later called efforts to sanction countries who are not Code compliant “politics”.
On Saturday, Kasper will be one of many sports leaders participating in a summit held by the International Olympic Committee Lausanne to review the WADA anti-doping system. (Kasper will call in from South Korea, where he is inspecting the 2018 Olympic preparations.)
For several years, the eyes of the sports world have been on WADA and their handling of state-sponsored doping by Russia and cover-ups by the international governing body for track and field.
WADA’s response after the violations were revealed was initially weak. It did not act for years on information from Russian whistleblowers and its former top investigator, Jack Richardson, revealed that his work had been hampered by the organization’s leadership, specifically current president Craig Reedie.
But by the spring of 2016, WADA was taking a harder line, recommending a total ban of Russia at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
It was the IOC who walked back that effort, instead leaving it up to each international sports federation to decide whether Russians could participate. Russia ultimately sent 291 athletes in 26 sports.
WADA has also recently recommended harsher penalties for countries which do not adhere to the WADA Code, the international agreement which governs anti-doping efforts.
For instance, they explicitly linked a country’s compliance to the accreditation of its anti-doping laboratory, stating that laboratories in non-compliant countries were not handle doping control samples. Previously, laboratory accreditation and national Code compliance had been more separate.
WADA has also urged international sports federations not to award major events to countries which are not Code compliant. However, no World Cup or World Championship events set to be hosted by Russia have been canceled or moved. In addition, the International Biathlon (IBU) recently awarded Russia the 2021 World Championships.
“The World Anti-Doping Code is very clear in this respect: it is the International Federations’ responsibility to ‘do everything possible to award World Championships only to countries where the Government has ratified, accepted, approved or acceded to the UNESCO Convention and the National Olympic Committee, National Paralympic Committee and National Anti-Doping Organisation are in compliance with the Code’,” WADA told Inside The Games. “Since November 18, 2015, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency has been deemed non-compliant with the Code. In light of this, WADA has sought further clarification from the IBU.”
Many in the sports world agree that additional sanctions for noncompliance are desperately needed. Previously, WADA worked primarily to help nations achieve Code compliance but had few tools to punish them if they regressed.
“WADA is independent and they need to be given the authority and the seniority to impose sanctions and ensure that they’re the ones who are responsible for compliance,” Canadian cross-country skier Beckie Scott, the chair of WADA’s Athlete Committee, told USA Today.
Meanwhile, earlier in October WADA strengthened its partnership with Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, with “Project Energia” to investigate the link between organized crime and sports doping.
That is the kind of work WADA should be doing, Kasper asserted, rather than deciding how to punish non-Code Compliant countries.
One of his concerns seemed to be potential inconvenience for sports federations organizing major events.
“This code-compliance idea causes all kind of problems,” the FIS president said.”A country like Spain, for instance, might be code compliant today and not code compliant tomorrow… This fight against doping is, in my eyes, not a political fight.”
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Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.