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Olympics: High-stakes summit eyes anti-doping overhaul

Lausanne (AFP): After a Russian doping scandal plunged the Olympic movement into one of its worst crises, top figures in world sport meet on Saturday in a bid to overhaul global drug testing.

Relations between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the body it created to promote clean competition, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), hit historic lows ahead of this summer’s Rio Games.

Some IOC leaders accused WADA of reacting too slowly to evidence that Russia was running a massive state-sponsored doping programme and questioned the agency’s governance.

WADA countered that it has been left dangerously under-resourced.

Saturday’s summit in Lausanne, Switzerland is an effort to turn the page and forge “a more robust, more efficient and more independent worldwide anti-doping system,” an IOC statement said.

Olympic chief Thomas Bach will huddle behind closed doors with the head of the world athletics governing body (IAAF) Sebastian Coe, FIFA boss Gianni Infantino and WADA president Craig Reedie.

The heads of the Russian, American and Chinese Olympic committees will also be on hand.

Bach will hold a conference call with reporters at 2:30 pm (1230 GMT) to discuss the summit’s outcomes, but the prospects for concrete decisions are uncertain.

– What does the IOC want? -Currently, anti-doping controls are run by individual sports federations, with WADA overseeing global compliance — essentially trying to ensure that federations follow a broad set of rules.

Bach has said unequivocally that the IOC wants testing to be removed from the federations’ hands to do away with a system that is ripe for conflicts of interest.

What that means for WADA’s future is not entirely clear.

In October 2015, before the Russia scandal exploded, the IOC floated the idea that global testing could be taken over by an independent body.

It seemed logical to some that a beefed-up WADA could assume responsibility for drug controls across all sports, but months of acrimony and accusations have clouded the situation.

Aside from the Russia doping crisis that saw dozens of its competitors banned from Rio, WADA’s integrity took a further hit when hackers seemingly intent on exposing perceived double standards leaked WADA medical records of more than 100 top global athletes.

The hack was carried out by a group calling itself “Fancy Bears”, believed to be Russian, and revealed which banned medications major stars were legitimately taking under so-called “therapeutic use exemptions” (TUEs).

WADA’s difficulties and its tensions with the IOC fuelled suggestions that a new entity could be created to oversee testing.

Asked about the expectations for Saturday’s talks, Bach told AFP that the IOC “will make some constructive proposals”, underscoring that Olympic leaders were already looking at overhauling anti-doping measures “well before” the latest crises came to light.

Bach has also backed reforms that would see the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decide on penalties for anyone caught cheating. At present, sanctions are decided by the sports themselves with CAS only hearing appeals.

Bach argues that letting a single court punish dopers in all sports would improve transparency and save money.

– WADA confident -WADA, established in 1999, is 50 percent funded by the IOC.

But despite simmering tensions with its powerful parent WADA officials have predicted that the agency will remain a strong presence in the intensifying fight for clean sport.

“I do not think that the situation is critical for WADA,” its director general Olivier Niggli said last month.

Highlighting the agency’s essential role, he stressed it was WADA that commissioned the bombshell report on Russian doping, unveiling perhaps the largest cheating scandal in Olympic history.

That report, led by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, is due to be published in full in the coming weeks.