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

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

At the time of his first election to President of the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2013, many claimed that Sir Craig Reedie, former Badminton champion, inherited a Mission Impossible. After four years as Head of WADA, so much ground has been parcoured. For the Monacan Anti-Doping Comitee, Sir Craig Reedie has agreed to talk about his presidency, about the state of the fight against doping and about his sport vision. 

Within half a century you have progressed from badminton courts to being one of the most influential and respected actors in the world of sport. What are the major events that have punctuated your career and when did you become aware that you should join the fight against doping ?

Sir Craig Reedie :

I have enjoyed many outstanding moments in sport. If pressed to make a short selection, these would include the IOC Session in East Berlin in 1985 when Badminton became an Olympic Programme sport – featuring for the first time in the Barcelona Games of 1992; and the moment, during the Singapore Session in 2005, when London won the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

I have been involved in the fight against doping since WADA was first created following the Festina and Salt Lake City scandals. In fact, I joined the Agency almost at inception in 2000 when Dick Pound, the first WADA President invited me to accept the Chairmanship of the WADA Finance and Administration Committee. As you can imagine, much has changed since then and the Agency has accomplished an impressive amount. I am proud to have played a very active role in its development, to preside over it today, and to be working alongside our partners in strengthening the Agency for the future generation of athletes.

Furthermore, which are the major developments in the world of sport that have made the most impression on you during this half-century that you have spent at its very core?

I came into sports administration when the effects of the jet engine and the communications satellite were making sport an increasingly global phenomenon. The development of access to elite sport via television, and now other platforms, and the huge increase in commercial interest have changed the world of sport. The IOC has been central to many of the best of these developments, including partnering with governments in 1999 to establish WADA.

At the time of your first election to President of the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2013, many people claimed that you had inherited a Mission Impossible. How did you manage to disprove these expectations?

I have heard this before. In fact, a media outlet once called me “the man with the impossible job”. At the time of my election in 2013, the challenges were difficult but not impossible. The constant need to raise finances and to drive enthusiasm in all stakeholders was paramount. Later on, the revelations of widespread cheating in Russia and the huge media reaction that erupted in late 2014 really introduced the word “impossible”. However, I am an optimist, and while I believe that this is a pivotal time for anti-doping, I am confident that WADA and its partners will surmount the challenges they have faced over the last few years and the anti-doping community will emerge stronger.

« I question whether the common view that the cheats are better resourced and always ahead is always accurate. »

Sir Craig Reedie

What conclusions would you draw from your first four years as Head of WADA?

As we continue to deal with the fallout from the two Independent Investigations (Pound and McLaren) into breaches of anti-doping rules in Russia, there is a greatly increased understanding among WADA Stakeholders that clean sport is ever more important. Governments are increasingly committed and the sport movement has come through a series of difficult challenges. Clean athletes are now more clearly identified as deserving of support.

Last year you were reelected as president of WADA, could you give us a summary of the principal elements of your programme?

The Presidency of WADA involves a maximum of two terms of three years. Renewal of my mandate came at the end of 2016 and I have been faced with many challenges to “reform” the WADA systems and processes. These demands arose from the uncomfortable experiences of different stakeholders from the two Independent Investigations. The hybrid system of 50/50 responsibility between sport and Governments had served sport well since 1999 but came under pressure because a major country had systematically broken the rules. In these circumstances, it was probably reasonable that a complete review of WADA systems and processes be undertaken. The current review programme includes increased focus on Compliance, Investigations and Whistleblowing; as well as, Working Groups that are studying the Laboratory Accreditation Monitoring System, Governance, and a new Independent Testing Agency at the request of the IOC. We are not short of work – and we still have to resolve issues in Russia to help bring RUSADA back to compliance with the Code.

Several countries use Sport to promote their international image and to reinforce their national identity. Do you not think that these objectives tend to obstruct progress towards clean sport?

There is nothing wrong with the fact that sporting competition and success by a country’s athletes can bring sporting legacies and benefits to sport in that country. But when sport is portrayed as an example of enhanced national identity, there is a clear risk that priorities will become unbalanced. The old Soviet system in Eastern Europe still affects the overall conduct of sport in certain countries. Unfortunately, Clean Sport has also been damaged by the application of such philosophies.

As President of WADA, how can political pressure best be managed at a time when international sport is again at the center of serious geopolitical issues?

Recent challenges to WADA – and the media firestorm which resulted – have brought increased attention and understanding from Governments in their interactions with WADA. Even greater pressures have arisen for the sports movement. WADA cannot of itself resolve geopolitical issues –Governments can – and these efforts are enhanced when sport shows that it is committed to clean and well organised competition and maintains its treasured autonomy by insisting on good governance and transparent processes.

You have spent your sporting life encouraging people to be interested in and to participate in sport. Is your position today of having the role of one of the ultimate policemen of sport not something of an intellectual challenge?

Sport – and participation – are, of themselves, part of a good and healthy lifestyle. When this is under attack from people who cheat it is essential that organisations like WADA – a hybrid sport and Government organisation – are encouraged and supported to deal with these issues. The independence of WADA is crucial. Sports officials are all about encouraging people – and young people – into sport. No matter how disappointing cheating can become, it is vital that personal feelings are put aside and every effort made to confront the cheats in defence of the huge majority of people who take part in and whose lives benefit from the love of sport. This is really the Play True generation.

« New Regulations take time, especially when international rule changes are demanded and require wide consultation and Government processes. »

Sir Craig Reedie

We sometimes hear that many « clean » athletes have lost confidence in authorities such as WADA and the IOC. Do you share this view, and if so what are the best means in your opinion to restore this confidence?

The growth of Athletes Commissions – in WADA, the IOC, IFs and NOCs has allowed a very wide debate and much strong reaction from athletes to the challenges of the last two years. Athletes want change – and they want change to be brought about now. Sometimes, change takes too long. However, involving athletes as widely as possible helps explain the issues and encourages understanding that the values in clean sport need to be protected – and ultimately, to defeat any loss of confidence.

In the fight against doping, the most important and without doubt the most difficult battle is changing people’s attitude to the subject. There always seems to be a big gap between this attitude and the legislative or regulatory regime that we feel needs to be put in place. However, on the basis that a number of rising athletes claim themselves to be overtly anti-doping, do you think that this battle is starting to be won even in the public at large?

The very disappointing series of revelations from Russia have intensified attitudes to doping issues. New Regulations take time, especially when international rule changes are demanded and require wide consultation and Government processes. One of the most encouraging movements has been the reactions of athletes, their involvement in the processes of change and, frequently, their detailed demands within their own sports that have brought about organisational changes. The public see this and respect it.

Does this evolution in people’s attitude not conflict with another strong desire of the public, that of having top level sport more and more spectacular and in pursuit of ever higher standards?

There has been some media comment that in the competition for sporting exposure, athlete safety and the necessary duty of care can be subjugated to ever more sensation in the particular sport. I do not see this as a particularly popular point of view and some increasingly popular “new” sports are introducing and developing their own anti-doping rules. I see an overall movement towards the protection of values in sport – not simply increased sensationalism. The huge increase in money in sport provides clear challenges in this respect.

Since 2015, WADA has access to investigative means that have been significantly improved. How do you hope to balance, as far as is possible, the accepted means for fighting doping against the vast methods available to cheat the rules?

The 2015 World Anti-Doping Code gave WADA its first legal authority to conduct investigations. The WADA Investigations Department has been strongly reinforced and is professionally led. The Department also oversees the new Whistleblower Programme – Speak Up! WADA also coordinates and invests in substantial scientific research in anti-doping. I question whether the common view that the cheats are better resourced and always ahead is always accurate.

Some commentators warn against the risk of an escalation in use of force. The more we become tough on cracking-down, the more the cheaters use sophisticated techniques which are more and more difficult to expose and counter. Do you share this concern? How should we best balance our efforts between prevention, education, and repression?

Recent evidence and events would indicate that constant vigilance is now required by all Anti-Doping Organisations. The anti-doping community is aware of many techniques developed to allow people to cheat. Investigations will be the lead vehicle to identify and repel these developments. Prevention, in its many forms, will continue as in many parts of the world, it is the only practical option. But the ultimate solution must lie in education – organised, developed and delivered to young people. WADA’s Social Science Research has shown time and time again the importance of conducting values-based education to athletes and their entourage. It is imperative, in order to preserve and protect the integrity of sport, that everyone with immediate influence on future generations of athletes be educated on anti-doping matters. This is an enormous challenge that needs all our attention.

« WADA plants seeds every day to shape the future for clean sport . »

Sir Craig Reedie

For someone like you who had already worked so hard for sport, and who has been one of the major players in the success of the election of London for the 2012 Olympics, what was your experience like of carrying the Olympic torch at home in Scotland?

In June 2012, I pulled rank on the organisers of the London 2012 Torch Relay and arranged that the Torch night-stopped in St Andrews, Scotland – the home of Golf. My own sport is now golf – as I have become too slow for badminton – but to carry the Torch in the home of golf on a beautiful sunny morning was a very special personal moment.

There is a photo of you published in The Herald in August 2016, the major Glasgow daily newspaper, showing you in your living room at your home of Bridge of Weir with the Olympic Torch beside you. Does it mean that it is your favorite object?

Along with all the runners, I was able to keep my own London Torch. Its design was elegant and its impact before the Games in bringing 15 million people on to the streets of Britain was a fantastic promotion for Olympic sport. The Torch has pride of place in my home.

Another famous Scotsman, Robert Louis Stevenson, once wrote: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant”. Would you agree saying that this sentence also applies to the fight against doping?

Your quotation from Robert Louis Stevenson is very apt when applied to the fight against doping and the protection of clean athletes. WADA plants seeds every day to shape the future for clean sport –whether it be by ensuring harmonized anti-doping rules, by carrying out capacity building activities with Anti-Doping Organizations, or by developing and proposing education programs – the Agency and its partners are working hard to create future generations of clean athletes.
This quote can also apply to other aspects of sports efforts. I was Chairman of the Executive Committee of the British Olympic Association at a meeting in London on 12th January 1994 when we decided that any future British Olympic Bid would come from London. 19.5 years later, we would up the Organising Committee. Seeds were planted – they grew – and flourished.