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Sports

Staffing turmoil haunts German anti-doping agency

It's another blow to the war on drugs in sports. The head of Germany's anti-doping agency announced that she was stepping down, in a surprise annoucement that cast a shadow of doubt over the future of NADA.

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The agency's internal problems are causing embarassment

Anja Berninger caught many people off guard when she announced that she would resign her post as acting director of the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA).

"I personally did not see this coming," Dagmar Freitag, the chairwoman of the Sports Committee in the German Parliament, told dpa news agency. "It's certainly not a beneficial development for NADA."

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Nearly every country has an anti-doping agency

Many had expected Berninger would become the organization's permanent director. Although those involved have agreed not to talk about the reasons for Berninger's resignation, observers are saying that she was annoyed that headhunters had been engaged to look for further candidates for the post.

It's the second time the leader of NADA has stepped down in six months. Berninger's predecessor, Göttrik Wewer, quit the job in September.

The ongoing upheaval at the top of NADA has raised questions about the ability of the organization to continue its work.

Chaos in the personnel department

It certainly does raise some skepticism about the organization's efficacy, says, Michael Reinsch, a sports journalist at the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Reinsch said there was speculation that Berninger stepped down due to political power plays within the agency.

"Nada's technical expertise stands in stark contrast to its chaotic staffing policies," Reinsch said.

In recent years, NADA has expanded its scope beyond testing athletes for doping into managing positive cases and dealing with fines and sanctions. Its good reputation was partly thanks to Berninger's work. The 31-year-old lawyer had earned the respect of many of her colleagues.

Munich

Munich's bid to host the 2018 Olympics could suffer

Prof. Hans Geyer of the German Sports University in Cologne, who worked with Berninger on anti-doping cases, said he regretted that she had stepped down.

"She did a great deal for the reputation of NADA domestically and abroad, and she really understood the needs of the laboratory. She learned the ropes very quickly."

An image problem

Berninger's resignation comes at an unfortunate time, casting a shadow over Munich's bid to host the 2018 Winter Games.

"Becoming a host for the Olympic Games isn't just a process of filling out application forms," parliamentarian Dagmar Freitag said, adding that the Olympic Committee follows developments in the candidate countries very closely. Upheaval at the highest level of Germany's anti-doping agency doesn't send a good signal.

Now the search will be on for a replacement who can convince the Olympic Committee and others that NADA can still carry out effective drug control.

That won't be an easy task, says Hans Geyer. "I'm sure that they will find someone eventually, but it will take time to build up the necessary competence and earn the trust that we had in Ms. Berninger."

Author: Sarah Harman
Editor: Michael Lawton

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