Three high-profile Olympic and Paralympic athletes are incensed over a proposed age minimum that would eliminate their choice to be the next president of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
A list of guidelines under consideration includes a requirement that any candidate to replace Craig Reedie be at least 45. Reedie’s term expires next year.
That would eliminate 41-year-old Linda Helleland of Norway, who has emerged as a favorite among athletes who want to see radical change in WADA following the agency’s much-criticized decision to reinstate Russia’s anti-doping operation.
Members of Athletes for Clean Sport, Sebastian Samuelsson, Callum Skinner and Ali Jawad, released a statement this week calling the proposal “totally unacceptable.”
“Given the recent direction of WADA and the lack of transparency that we have witnessed, is it merely a coincidence that just weeks before the athlete-minded candidate Linda Helleland would begin her campaign to be the next President, WADA could allow rules to be pushed through that would render Linda’s campaign ineligible?” they wrote.
The proposal will be discussed at WADA’s board meeting next week.
WADA officials say the proposal came not from their leadership, but from representatives of the international governments that provide half the agency’s funding.
“Neither WADA’s leadership nor its management was involved or consulted in any way in the drafting of this document,” spokesman James Fitzgerald said. “Any suggestion to the contrary is simply untrue.”
Fitzgerald said the document is not an agenda item for either the executive committee or the foundation board at next week’s meetings, but will be discussed by representatives of the governments, who asked for the WADA office’s help in distributing the information.
WADA will discuss its recently formulated proposals for governance reform, which have been criticized by athletes for not going far enough to bring their voices into the decision-making process. Those proposals include nothing about age limits for the president.
Helleland, who currently serves as WADA vice president, cast one of two dissenting votes when the WADA executive committee voted to reinstate Russia. She has been an outspoken critic of WADA’s leadership and has presented herself as a candidate who would put athletes front and center in the WADA process.
The athletes said regardless of who came up with the idea, it represents a shifting of the goal posts as the campaign begins.
“Whether this move was initiated by WADA leadership or management, or whether it was initiated by members of WADA’s Boards, this is irrelevant,” they wrote. “It is WADA’s duty to lead, and leadership requires having a finger on the pulse of public and athlete opinion.”
U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart called it “an obvious attempt to rig the election so the reform candidates can’t run.”
“It’s ludicrous,” he said. “Joan of Arc turned a war around at 17 and Queen Elizabeth became queen at 25, but to be WADA president, you need to be 45? Wow. Only in IOC/WADA world does this occur.”