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Time for WADA to study the true human cost of the global anti-doping system


Time for WADA to study the true human cost of the global anti-doping system

Statement by the World Players Association on the World Anti-Doping Code and the human rights of athletes

The true impact of the global anti-doping system on athletes must be fully understood by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) if it is serious about protecting the human rights of athletes. That study should be completed by the time the new World Anti-Doping Code (Code) takes effect on 1 January 2021.

WADA’s approach to human rights:

WADA has long claimed that the Code has been developed “giving consideration to the principles of proportionality and human rights” and relies upon an opinion of the former President of the European Court of Human Rights, Judge Jean-Paul Costa to support this. However, Judge Costa’s opinion has been given in a factual vacuum and fails to even mention the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

The UNGPs provide the global standard for states and businesses to protect, respect and uphold human rights. WADA – as an agency of both governments and transnational sports bodies – has a particularly strong responsibility to embed human rights within its system.

This omission means that the human rights analysis accompanying the 2021 Code has been done without any factual understanding of the impact of the system on the rights and wellbeing of the people most affected by it – the athletes. WADA therefore does not know, and cannot show, whether its system including the sanctions it imposes are proportionate and human rights compatible.

WADA must understand and prevent harm:

In the recently completed Code review process, the World Players Association, which represents 85,000 athletes through more than 100 player associations in over 65 countries, tabled many cases of manifest injustice with WADA. Harmful human rights impacts arose from testing processes, data and privacy breaches, arbitrary dispute resolution procedures and sanctions that had a devastating impact on the careers and wellbeing of athletes who clearly are not ‘cheats’.

To implement the UNGPs, WADA must: (1) develop a binding athlete rights policy based on internationally recognised human rights (which the Athletes’ Anti-Doping Rights Act does not purport to be); (2) conduct ongoing due diligence to assess actual and potential adverse human rights impacts; (3) provide access to an effective remedy where athlete rights are violated, and; (4) engage with key stakeholders including athletes and their legitimate representatives.

As a first step, World Players has proposed that WADA commissions independent research so that it can understand the impact its systems and sanctions have on athletes.

Swift action on these matters presents a win-win for WADA as it will be able to work to prevent harmful impacts and build enhanced athlete trust and confidence as an athlete aware regulator of the global anti-doping effort.