When the International Olympic Committee launched the World Anti-Doping Agency in 1999, it was hailed as a giant step forward in the fight against athletes who cheat. But today WADA is facing a new threat – a lack of money.
The Montreal-based agency is cutting back on some of its programs, including a monitoring team at the London Olympics, mainly because of a recent budget freeze. Money is getting so tight, WADA is considering hiring a fundraiser to ask for donations and solicit corporate sponsorships from companies like Nike.
“We have cut back,” David Howman, WADA’s director general, said. The budget freeze “doesn’t help progress because we are asked to do a lot of things to make sure that we keep up with the cheats. And that requires innovation and it requires actions that we can put into place. We’ve just got to not go as fast as we would wish in some of those areas.”
Howman said WADA has pared its spending this year and is scaling back some programs at the Olympics, including reductions to an observer team that monitors drug testing and an outreach program in the athletes’ village. “If you are not given a budget which maintains the pace of the cost of living, you fall behind,” Howman added. “And you have to then consider what goes by the by.”
WADA’s mandate is broad and growing. Its primary job is ensuring compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code, a set of anti-doping rules that has been adopted by more than 600 countries and sports organizations. WADA does that mainly by accrediting labs around the world that conduct doping tests during major sporting events, such as the Olympics, and on athletes out of competition. It also reviews decisions by member federations to sanction athletes for doping violations and it files appeals if it believes rulings don’t follow the code. WADA is also responsible for drawing up the list of banned substances and it provides educational programs.
It does all that with 55 employees and an annual budget of about $26-million (U.S.). Half the funding comes from more than 160 countries, with annual dues varying from as little $450 for some impoverished African countries to $1.9-million from the United States and nearly $1-million from Canada. The IOC provides the other half.
Last fall WADA’s directors refused the agency’s request for a 2-per-cent increase in contributions, saying the increase could not be justified given the difficult economic conditions in some countries. Some directors, including WADA chairman John Fahey, said the decision would put WADA programs at risk, board minutes indicate. But others argued WADA should tighten its belt and look elsewhere for money.
There are indications financial restraints are impacting doping tests. In a report to the board last November, Howman said he was disturbed to learn some labs have not been testing for EPO, a banned blood-boosting agent, because it cost too much. There are many varieties of EPO and WADA has spent millions developing effective tests. Howman told the board that of the 285,000 samples collected from athletes in 2010, there were only 36 positive EPO cases, a clear sign that tests weren’t being done.
In an interview, Howman said WADA was scrambling to keep up with “sophisticated dopers” through more targeted testing and co-operation with police. WADA is concerned that some athletes are using “micro doses” of banned substances more frequently, meaning they still get performance benefits but avoid detection. Some also use human growth hormone, which is hard for labs to trace.
“There are a whole lot of areas where there could be better things done, we can’t do them,” Howman said. “We’ve got a budget of $26-million and we don’t have any authority to tell governments what to do.”