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Richard W. Pound, a lawyer in Montreal for Stikeman Elliott LLP, was the founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

In 1999, the fight against doping looked bleak. There was widespread institutional denial of the existence of doping in sport, despite evidence to the contrary. There were inconsistent or non-existent anti-doping rules, and sporadic testing that was backed up by inadequate enforcement. There was no funding and no coordination between sport and governments.

But this year, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), formed in November of that year against these long odds, will mark its 20th anniversary at its fifth World Conference in Katowice, Poland. It is hard to imagine that the fight against doping in sport could grow from such humble beginnings and generate the worldwide attention and significant progress we have witnessed in the course of the last two decades. It is, however, a worthwhile endeavour.

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Those early days were as heady as they were challenging. WADA began its work in early 2000, in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics, only to find the situation to be worse than expected. A majority of the Olympic sports did not even have rules that allowed them to conduct out-of-competition tests.

​The first major challenge for WADA was to create universal and all-encompassing anti-doping rules to replace the patchwork quilt that involved more than 200 countries and territories, some 50 international federations and 206 national Olympic committees. After massive consultations with all stakeholders, the World Anti-Doping Code was adopted in March, 2003, and it came into effect the following year, with Olympic Movement stakeholders, led by the International Olympic Committee, agreeing to then implement the code prior to the Athens Olympics in 2004. Governments agreed to adopt an International Convention under the aegis of UNESCO, adopted in October, 2005, before the Torino Olympic Winter Games in 2006. That convention has now been ratified by 188 countries and requires governments to use the code as the basis of their fight against doping in sport. This was the first time in history that sport and governments have committed to such a common front.

​The next challenge was to develop standards for laboratory accreditation, testing and many technical but important issues that form part of a comprehensive international anti-doping program, including scientific and social research. WADA recently established an internal, but nevertheless independent, mechanism to assess stakeholder compliance with code provisions and to recommend appropriate actions in the event of non-compliance. This effectively removes irrelevant considerations such as politics from compliance determinations.

In addition to ensuring the sturdiness of the science, WADA needed to develop and deliver educational and outreach programs, to ensure that stakeholders understood their responsibilities under the code so they could carry them out. The complexities of co-ordinating so many different stakeholders that have diverse cultures, languages, resources and expertise to a standardized implementation of a comprehensive anti-doping program are enormous, and thus this work requires constant reinforcement. Education will, in the long run, be particularly important in the prevention of doping.

​WADA’s power to conduct its own investigations, withheld by its stakeholders until 2015, has proven to be particularly important. A major probe into systematic Russian doping, followed by investigations of biathlon athletes, Kenyan runners and others that are currently under way, add immeasurably to the deterrence element of WADA’s mission. Investigations will become even more effective once sharing information between the sport and public authorities is improved to enable the flow to work seamlessly, in both directions. WADA’s reputation for thorough, reliable and independent investigations has been significantly enhanced.

Of course, nothing is perfect. WADA remains a work in progress, evolving with experience – scientific and otherwise. It needs to improve its ability to convince some skeptical athletes that it is working for them, to create the level playing field they need for fair competition and to demonstrate that it understands their needs and welcomes their views on all aspects of the fight against doping in sport.

And make no mistake about it: This is a fight. Very little doping is accidental; it is almost always planned, deliberate and well-resourced, expressly intended to defraud both athletes who play by the rules and the public at large.

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So here’s to two decades of defending the athletes who do things right – and to the decades still to come, for as long as the spirit of fair competition requires a champion.

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