Interview with Sir Craig Reedie, President of the World Anti-Doping Agency

Interview with Craig Reedie, President of the World Anti-Doping Agency

When he took over as head of the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2013, Sir Craig Reedie, a former Badminton champion, accepted an “impossible mission”. Almost two terms later, the road traveled, strewn with challenges and major events, is colossal. For the Monegasque Anti-Doping Committee, Sir Craig Reedie agreed to return to his presidency and to share not only his point of view on the state of anti-doping, but also his vision of sport in general. 

In half a century, you have grown from badminton lessons to being one of the most influential and respected men in the world of sport. What are the major events that have marked your career and when did you realize that you had to fight against doping?

Sir Craig Reedie: I have experienced many unforgettable moments in the world of sport. If I had to choose the ones that impressed me the most, I would cite the IOC session in East Berlin in 1985: badminton then became an Olympic sport, and it was included in the competition program for the first time at the Games. Barcelona 1992. Another big moment was the 2005 session in Singapore, where it was determined that London would host the 2012 Olympics.

I have been involved in the fight against doping since WADA was founded, after the Festina affair and the Salt Lake City scandal. In fact, I joined the Agency practically when it was founded, in 2000; Dick Pound, the first president of WADA, then invited me to become chairman of the Finance and Administration Committee. As you can imagine, a lot has changed since then, and the Agency has done an impressive amount of work. I am proud to have played a very active role in its development, to be at the helm today as president and to work in concert with our partners to strengthen the Agency for the next generations of athletes.

What are also the major developments in the world of sport that have marked you the most during this half-century spent at the very heart of it?

I entered the world of sports administration at a time when it was becoming, with the advent of jet engines and communications satellites, an increasingly global phenomenon. The expansion of access to elite sport through television, and now other platforms, and the dramatic rise in commercial interest it represents have transformed the world of sport. The IOC was instrumental in many of these developments, including the partnership with governments in 1999 to create WADA.

During your first election as President of the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2013, many announced that you had inherited an impossible mission, how did you manage to contradict these forecasts?

Indeed, we have already said that. A press organ had called me "the man with the impossible mandate". When I was elected in 2013, the challenges were great, but not impossible to overcome. The constant need to find funds and stimulate the enthusiasm of all partners was very important. Later, the revelations of widespread cheating in Russia and the very strong media reaction at the end of 2014 really allowed me to gauge the meaning of the word "impossible". However, I am an optimistic person and even though we are at a turning point in the fight against doping, I have no doubts that WADA and its partners will succeed in overcoming the obstacles they have encountered in recent years and that the anti-doping community will emerge even stronger.

“Personally, I'm not ready to say, as some people believe, that cheaters have greater resources and are always ahead.”

Sir Craig Reedie

What conclusions do you draw from your first four years at the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency?

The two independent investigations (Pound and McLaren) into anti-doping rule violations in Russia continue to have an impact, and WADA's partners are much more aware of the importance of clean sport now more than ever. Governments are becoming more and more involved and the sports movement has experienced a whole series of difficulties. It is now clearly established that clean athletes deserve support.

You were re-elected last year at the head of WADA, can you give us a summary of your program?

WADA's presidency cannot exceed two terms of three years each. My reappointment took place at the end of 2016 and I was faced with many challenges requiring “reform” of the Agency's systems and processes. These demands arose out of the distressing experiences of various partners during the two independent investigations. The hybrid system of shared responsibility equally between the Sports Movement and governments has been beneficial to the world of sport since 1999, but it began to come under pressure because a great country systematically broke the rules. In the circumstances, it was reasonable to undertake a complete review of WADA's systems and processes. Ongoing review program puts more emphasis on compliance, investigations and whistleblowers, and working groups are looking at the laboratory accreditation oversight system, governance and a new independent supervisory authority at the request of the IOC. We have some work to do, and we still need to sort out the problems in Russia in order to help RUSADA return to Code compliance.

Many countries use sport to consolidate their international influence and to assert their national identity. Don't you think that this temptation is a brake on the advent of clean sport?

There is nothing wrong with sporting competitions and successes achieved by athletes in a country having a positive impact on sport in that country. But when sport is used as an example of enhanced national identity, there is a real risk that priorities are out of balance. The old Soviet system in Eastern Europe still has an impact on the conduct of sport in general in some countries. Unfortunately, clean sport has also suffered from the application of these principles.

How, as president of WADA, do you deal with political pressures when international sport is once again at the heart of important geopolitical issues?

WADA's recent challenges - and the resulting media storm - have increased the attention and understanding of governments in their dealings with the Agency. The sports movement is also under even greater pressure. WADA alone cannot solve geopolitical issues - governments can - and these efforts are heightened when the world of sport demonstrates that it respects clean sport and well-organized competitions and maintains autonomy. which it holds so much by insisting on good governance and transparent processes.

You have spent your athletic life encouraging people to get interested in and play sports. Isn't the fact, today, of having the role of great policeman of sport an intellectual challenge?

Sport - and participation - is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. When cheating people come to jeopardize these values, it is essential that organizations like WADA, a hybrid organization run by the sports movement and governments, be encouraged and helped to address these issues. The independence of WADA is crucial. Sports officials encourage people, especially young people, to participate in competitive sport. It is very disappointing that some people cheat, but it is essential to put your emotions aside and make all possible efforts to confront cheaters in order to defend the vast majority of people who participate in sports competitions and whose lives is enriched by the love of sport. This is truly the Franc Jeu Generation.

“It takes time to put new rules in place, especially when changes are demanded internationally and require broad consultation and government processes.”

Sir Craig Reedie

It is sometimes claimed that many “clean” athletes have lost confidence in authorities like WADA and the IOC. Do you share this observation and, if so, what do you think are the means to restore this confidence?

The growth of athlete committees - at WADA, the IOC, the IFs and the NOCs - has given rise to a very broad debate and enabled athletes to react vigorously to the challenges of the past two years. They are asking for change, and they are demanding that this change happen now. Sometimes change takes too long to materialize. Encouraging the widest possible participation of athletes helps to explain the issues and to further promote the understanding that clean sport values ​​need to be protected, which ultimately helps overcome loss of confidence.

The most important and undoubtedly the most difficult battle in the fight against doping is that of changing mentalities. It seems that there is always a gap between this and the legislative or regulatory framework that one wishes to put in place. However, in view of the fact that a growing number of athletes are now openly saying they are against doping, do you think that this fight is about to be won, including among the general public?

The series of very disappointing revelations about Russia have exacerbated positions on doping. New rules take time to put in place, especially when changes are demanded internationally and require broad consultation and government processes. The reactions of athletes, their participation in change processes and often their explicit demands in their respective sports have given rise to organizational changes, and this is one of the most encouraging results. The public is aware of this and respects this attitude.

Doesn't this change in mentality come up against another powerful desire of the public, that of an increasingly spectacular top-level sport in search of increasingly exceptional performances?

It has been said in the media that the search for media coverage can sometimes lead to sensationalist motivations to override the safety of athletes and the moral responsibility to them in a particular sport. I don't think this is a very popular view, and some increasingly popular “new” sports are introducing and developing their own anti-doping rules. I see a widespread movement to protect the values ​​of sport, not just growing sensationalism. The dramatic increase in the amount spent on sport poses obvious challenges in this regard.

Since 2015, WADA has had increased investigative resources. How do you hope to balance, as much as possible, the means granted to fight against doping and those, colossal, invested to circumvent the rules?

The 2015 World Anti-Doping Code gave WADA its first legal authority to conduct investigations. WADA's Investigations Department has been significantly strengthened and is led by specialists. He also oversees the new whistleblower program Break the silence! WADA also coordinates and funds substantial scientific research on anti-doping. Personally, I am not ready to say, as some people believe, that cheaters have greater resources and are always ahead.

Some observers warn against the risk of an escalation of the balance of power. The more the repression is toughened, the more those who want to circumvent the rules use sophisticated means, which are increasingly difficult to counter. Do you share this fear? How to properly distribute the efforts between prevention, education and repression?

Recent evidence and events indicate that all anti-doping organizations must now exercise constant vigilance. The anti-doping community is aware of the many techniques that have been developed to allow people to cheat. Investigations will be the main instrument for detecting and countering such acts. Prevention, in its many forms, will continue, because in many parts of the world it is the only viable option. But the ultimate solution lies in education - an education structured, developed and delivered to young people. WADA's social science research has repeatedly demonstrated the importance of values-based education to athletes and those around them. In order to preserve and protect the integrity of sport, it is imperative that everyone with an immediate influence on future generations of athletes is informed about anti-doping matters. This is a huge challenge that demands our full attention.

“WADA is sowing seeds every day to shape the future of clean sport”

Sir Craig Reedie

You who had already worked so hard for sport and who were one of the major architects of the success of London's bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, how did you experience having carried the Olympic Torch at home? in Scotland ?

In June 2012, I used my influence with the organizers of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Course to stop overnight in St Andrews, Scotland - the land of golf. My sport is now golf because I have become too slow for badminton. Carrying the torch to golf country on a beautiful sunny morning was a very special moment for me.

A photo published in August 2016 in The Herald, the leading Scottish daily newspaper published in Glasgow, shows you sitting in the living room of your home in Bridge of Weir with the Olympic Torch by your side. Does this mean that it is your favorite object?

Like all torchbearers, I was able to keep my own London Olympic torch. Its design was elegant and it drew 15 million people to the streets of Great Britain; its pre-Games impact was therefore an extraordinary promotion for Olympic sport. The torch has pride of place in my house.

Another famous Scotsman, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote: “Judge not every day by the harvest you make, but by the grains you sow”. Do you think this sentence could also serve as a motto in the fight against doping?

Your quote from Robert Louis Stevenson is very apt when applied to the fight against doping and the protection of clean athletes. WADA is sowing seeds every day to shape the future of clean sport, whether by ensuring anti-doping rule harmonization, carrying out capacity building activities with anti-doping organizations, or developing and delivering education programs, the Agency and its partners are working hard to create new generations of clean athletes.

This quote can also be applied to other aspects of the efforts made in sport. I chaired the Executive Committee of the British Olympic Association at a meeting in London on January 12, 1994, when we decided that any future Olympic proposal from Britain would come from London. Nineteen and a half years later, we formed the Organizing Committee. Seeds had been sown, and they sprouted and produced fruit.