At the WADA board meeting Thursday, Kendel Ehrlich of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy seized on an Associated Press story from the previous day that described efforts by WADA and the International Olympic Committee to lobby for substantive changes to the bill known as the Rodchenkov Act.
The core provision would allow the federal government to go after any person or organization that tries to carry out a fraudulent doping scheme. The law would cast a wide net, covering doping fraud at pretty much any major international event with ties to Olympic sports, even if it isn't held on U.S. soil. It would not go after individual athletes caught up in the schemes.
Not long before it passed the House last month, the IOC engaged a lobbying firm, in part to discuss the bill with policymakers in Washington. WADA has been working the halls for longer, and has budgeted $250,000, with the potential for more, to keep tabs on the bill and other doping issues at the Capitol.
This was a head-scratcher to Ehrlich and a number of WADA board members who also represent their governments back home. "What we want and ask this committee to do, through you, is to stop any such efforts," Ehrlich said. "It's just common sense. If we, as payers to you, use those funds to undermine legislation, then that's not going to be a cooperative and effective way to go forward."
The U.S. provided $2.5 million of WADA's $34.6 million budget in 2019. WADA has so far spent $10,000 for a lobbying firm to set up the meetings, plus the expenses of bringing director general Olivier Niggli and WADA's governmental relations advisor to Capitol Hill to discuss.
In Thursday's meeting, Niggli took issue with the idea that WADA was opposed to the bill, which is named after the former director of the Moscow antidoping lab who turned into a whistleblower. "We're just trying to avoid consequences that may affect the entire system," he said.
Later, Niggli told AP that his visits have not been to scuttle the legislation. "We don't pretend we're going to change the sovereignty of the U.S.," he said. But Niggli made no secret that both WADA and the IOC dislike the provision that criminalizes doping conspiracies, which the shapers of the bill consider to be the most important part.
Niggli said a concern about the "extraterritorial" aspect in the criminal portion of the bill is that it could leave people and corporations operating at sports events in any country vulnerable to U.S. prosecution.
"If this happens in the U.S. and then 20 other countries do the same thing, we'd have a system that wouldn't work anymore," Niggli said. Many U.S. corruption laws, including those used to prosecute FIFA executives in the soccer-bidding scandal, include similar extraterritorial jurisdiction as the Rodchenkov Act proposes.
The bill also includes provisions for whistleblower protection and for information sharing between law enforcement and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which played a big role in advancing the legislation. The IOC and WADA support those measures.
Meanwhile, there are other countries looking at similar laws, including Norway, whose WADA representative was among the half-dozen who spoke up against the lobbying effort. "WADA cannot lobby against national legislation simply because WADA doesn't like it," said the agency's vice president, Linda Helleland. "It's not right that our money, money from the governments, is used to lobby against our sovereign right to make laws, in particular legislation to fight corruption and fraud."
In the end, the WADA lobbying might not have much impact on the bill. It passed by a voice vote in the House and has bipartisan support in the Senate. Unlike recent U.S. government representatives to WADA, Ehrlich is a White House appointee, which is an indicator of the importance the administration places on the doping issue.
Ehrlich said nobody from her office was contacted before the WADA meetings in D.C. USADA officials said the same. "I wish you'd taken advantage of the fact that you had a political authority there in the U.S.," Ehrlich said. "We're friendly. We'd like to join you" in combating drugs in sports."