The U.S. government paid its remaining $1.3 million in dues to the World Anti-Doping Agency but delivered a brusque message along with the check, calling its absence from the regulator’s top decision-making boards a “sorry state of affairs.”
WADA announced having received the money Thursday, and President Witold Banka called the release of the funds a sign of support from the U.S. government.
But a pair of letters written by the director of the White House drug control office, Rahul Gupta, and obtained by The Associated Press, revealed the money was given despite major misgivings about both the way WADA operates and America’s standing within the agency.
The government has been critical of WADA for not moving urgently enough to reform itself in the wake of the Russian doping scandal that has upended international sports for most of the past decade. Gupta also highlighted the United States’ absence from WADA’s executive committee and foundation board, the two bodies that make the biggest decisions, despite the country’s outsized financial impact on the Olympic movement.
“Frankly, as I have learned more about the Americas distribution of WADA Board seats I have become more and more concerned by this sorry state of affairs,” Gupta wrote this week in a letter to Banka.
Gupta noted that the U.S. is absent from the 38-person foundation board for the first time since 2000, the year after WADA was founded. It has not had a seat on the executive committee, which shapes the decisions that the foundation board generally approves, since 2015.
Decisions about North American governments’ representation on the boards are made not by WADA but by a North American sports council. Gupta didn’t let that bureaucratic detail stifle his disdain with WADA’s role in the arrangement.
“This situation _ in which the world’s largest sporting country, the source of much of the funding generated for the Olympic Movement through the sale of broadcast rights and sponsorships, and the largest governmental dues payer to WADA does not have a significant role in WADA decision making _ is very problematic,” Gupta wrote in the letter to Banka.
In another letter, this one written last month to leaders in Congress, Gupta acknowledged his office was releasing the final $1.3 million of a $2.93 million commitment for 2021, but not without serious reservations. When Congress appropriated the money, it gave Gupta’s office power to withhold it.
“As the largest sporting nation in the Hemisphere and a key funder of WADA, paying half the dues of all of the Americas, it is not appropriate for the U.S. Government to be excluded from WADA’s key decision-making bodies,” Gupta wrote.
The $2.93 million the U.S. provided in 2021 dues accounted for about 7.3% of WADA’s $40 million annual budget and for half of what’s provided by all participating countries across North and South America. The U.S. normally delivers the entire amount in the first quarter of the year, but held it back while it pressed for more reforms in WADA’s structure.
In its own news release, WADA touted the reforms it had made, including increased representation for athletes and greater independence of some decision-makers. When WADA was formed, half the seats went to governments and the other half were controlled by the IOC, and the funding was designed the same way.
Banka said his discussions with Gupta at the most recent WADA meetings “were very positive, as were Dr. Gupta’s constructive interventions during the Board meeting itself.” at which Gupta was an observer.
But Gupta painted a different picture, and asked for a redistribution of seats on the top boards that will provide North America “adequate” representation.
He told Banka the U.S. government would keep evaluating its role to make sure it has a meaningful role in “advancing clean sports and in having a fair voice in how U.S. taxpayers funds are expended to address anti-doping issues.”