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Sports WADA head defends action on doping, ties to IOC amid wave of criticism

Sir Craig Reedie, president of World Anti-Doping Agency, speaks to the media in London on June 20, 2016.

ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images

The head of the Word Anti-Doping Agency has fired back at critics who say the organization hasn't done enough to fight doping and is too closely tied to the International Olympic Committee.

"I'm not sure that we are as bad as some people say that we are," WADA president Sir Craig Reedie told a media symposium in London on Monday. "I think the organization is effective and does good work."

WADA has been reeling from a series of allegations about widespread doping in sports. The Russian track and field team has been banned from the Rio Olympics, Russian and Chinese swimmers are under investigation for doping, and labs in five countries have been stripped of their WADA certification because of noncompliance. Another WADA probe headed by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren is looking into allegations of state-sponsored doping during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

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On Monday, the Montreal-based agency introduced a number of proposals to help crack down on drug cheats, including paying whistle-blowers and taxing television broadcasters to help pay for anti-doping programs.

The agency has faced scathing criticism recently for dragging its feet on pursuing doping allegations and being too aligned to the IOC, putting it in a conflict of interest when it comes to investigating Olympic athletes. WADA receives half its funding from the IOC, which also has several seats on the agency's board. Sir Craig is also an IOC vice-president.

He defended WADA's ties to the IOC by saying, "This marriage has worked.

"If people believe there is a conflict of interest, then clearly I have to deal with that perception," he said, adding that he will be stepping down from his IOC post after this summer's Olympics.

During Monday's symposium, Sir Craig indicated he would consider backing a ban on all Russian athletes attending the Olympics. "The allegations from the McLaren report are probably precedent-setting and the most dangerous ones that we've seen. So we will have to react to it," he said.

WADA's director-general, Olivier Niggli, said the agency plans to set up a whistle-blower system by November that could see the agency pay for tips.

Mr. Niggli said the decision was in response to questions about how WADA handled information from former Russian anti-doping official Vitaly Stepanov and his wife, Yuliya, a Russian track athlete. They contacted WADA in 2010 about alleged doping infractions, but nothing happened for years, prompting Mr. Stepanov to take his concerns to German media in 2014. The resulting publicity led WADA to launch an investigation into Russian athletics that resulted in the current sanctions.

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Mr. Niggli has insisted WADA could do little at the time because it did not have investigative powers or a whistle-blower policy. It set up an investigation unit last year led by a German police officer.

"We were not prepared to be in the middle of this investigation," he said Monday. "Now we realize this is going to be a priority – an important part of our work. … We want our investigation team to be as independent as possible."

Sir Craig also raised the possibility of taxing broadcasters who buy the rights to the Olympics and other major events. Currently WADA receives about $30-million (U.S.) annually from the IOC and governments around the world. Sir Craig said that is not nearly enough to pay for anti-doping programs and that a tax of less than 1 per cent on Olympic broadcast rights would generate almost $200-million for WADA.

"Where does the funding come from? This is why I want a debate. I want people to start talking about television rights," he said.

Russia contributes about $650,000 annually in direct dues to WADA, plus another $450,000 in extra payments. It has stopped paying the latter in response to the agency's actions.

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