World Anti-Doping Agency president Witold Banka played down suggestions US athletes could be barred from the Olympics over a funding row on Friday, saying he would not allow athletes to be caught in the crossfire of the dispute.
In an escalation of the global anti-doping watchdog’s feud with US authorities, WADA revealed on Thursday that it was ready to consider a rule change that could pave the way for sanctions against the US.
The agency said several governments and WADA stakeholders had proposed an amendment which would allow the agency to declare the United States non-compliant if Washington followed through on a threat to withdraw its annual funding to WADA.
A declaration of non-compliance by WADA could, in theory, see the United States barred from participating in, bidding for or hosting events such as the Olympics.
In an interview with Reuters published on Thursday, Banka warned that American athletes would face “severe and far-reaching consequences” if the US cut off its annual $2.7 million funding to WADA.
Han Xiao, the head of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s athletes body, condemned the remarks as “terrible.”
However, in a statement on Friday, Banka said US athletes would not be impacted by any eventual sanctions.
“Fairness for athletes all over the world remains my number one priority,” Banka said. “I will never let clean athletes become hostages of political games.
“Under the International Standard for Code Compliance by Signatories, there are many possible consequences that do not impact the athletes.”
Banka emphasised in the statement that the proposed amendment to WADA’s rules had been “raised by some concerned governments, not by WADA’s leadership.”
“As is the case with any proposal raised by a stakeholder, WADA has an obligation to consider it carefully,” he said.
“We will examine the rules to see if they need to be strengthened in light of the current situation. As always, due process will be followed and this will be a matter for discussion and consultation.”
WADA could discuss the issue at a meeting of its executive committee on September 14-15.
Friday’s statement is the latest chapter in a dispute which flared in June, when Washington’s Office of National Drug Control Policy recommended that US lawmakers be given the power to withhold funding to WADA, unless the body implemented governance reforms called for by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
WADA responded by saying the ONDCP study was littered with “multiple inaccuracies, misconceptions and falsehoods.”
However, in remarks on Friday, Banka struck a more conciliatory tone, saying the organisation wanted to work in partnership with the US government.
“In this critical time for anti-doping, we need unity, not division,” Banka said.
“I still stand ready to work with the US government on this and I am hopeful that it will continue to contribute to the global anti-doping program.
“But what our stakeholders are telling us is that this episode has highlighted the need for more commitment and accountability within the clean sport community.
“The only way to preserve the global system is for everyone involved to stand united and work together to make it stronger.”