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Drug-busting reforms on agenda at WADA board meeting

MONTREAL, May 17, 2017 (BSS/AFP) - The thorny issue of creating a new drug-testing authority independent of international federations will be on the agenda here Thursday at a key meeting of the World Anti-Doping Agency just eight months ahead of the Winter Olympics.

Currently in the fight against drugs, individual international federations wield varying degrees of power over doping controls, in many cases acting as judge and jury, according to critics of the system.

The International Olympic Committee, which faced a barrage of criticism last year for its response to the Russia doping scandal, has already sought to increase independence by handing primary responsibility for sanctioning to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

At an Olympic summit last October the IOC called for the creation of a new body for independent testing while barring international sports federations from drug-testing responsibilities.

The IOC argues the present system has failed to ensure clean competition and creates obvious conflicts of interest for sports federations.

WADA launched a working group last November to study the proposal of setting up an independent testing authority.

The findings of that working group are expected to be one of the key items on the agenda for this week's meeting of the WADA Foundation Board in Montreal, which gets under way on Thursday.

Jean-Christophe Rolland, the president of the International Rowing Federation (ISAF), told AFP there was broad support for change.

"All the partners agree on a basic principle that the system needs to be improved," Rolland said. "But depending on the size of the federations, the situations and means are different," the former Olympic champion added.

The push for an independent testing authority is not to everyone's taste however. Several powerful federations, notably world football's governing body FIFA, have already indicated they want to be exempt from the proposed reforms.

"We respect the WADA and IOC proposals but they concern the smaller federations," said Michel D'Hooghe, the chairman of FIFA's medical committee.

Irrespective of those tensions, however, the IOC is sticking to its goal of having a reformed system in place by the time of next February's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. "We intend to make the controls totally independent of the IOC," IOC president Thomas Bach said.

This task will be entrusted to a new independent testing authority whose structure may be outlined at Thursday's WADA Board meeting.

According to a source with knowledge of the issue, the proposed new testing authority would be created as a foundation under the control of a five-member board.

"However the vagueness raises many questions, notably concerning the legal structure and the composition and appointment of this council," the source told AFP.

"It is quite clear that the IOC, WADA and the national anti-doping agencies have different visions of what the new testing authority should look like," the source added.

Rolland meanwhile acknowledged the tensions when addressing the issue of how the new authority would be financed. "The difficulty will be to find a business model that satisfies everyone," he told AFP.

Thursday's meeting will begin with a keynote address by WADA's director general Olivier Niggli, who is expected to give updates on a number of issues including the "set of recommendations endorsed by the Council last November."

Those include issues ranging from compliance and governance to early warning systems and the laboratory accreditation process.