The future president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Witold Banka, wants to establish a solidarity fund to support anti-doping in Africa. The Pole also wants to work more closely with national secret services.
DW: Witold Banka, you were a competitive athlete yourself, do you think this will be an asset as you embark upon your new job as president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)?
Witold Banka: I was a sprinter back in the day and I understand the problems athletes face. This served me well in my role as minister of sports and tourism in Poland. As minister, the athletes and the coaches were always my utmost priority. And that's exactly how I'll be as WADA president. WADA is at the service of its athletes, it was founded for athletes, for clean athletes.
To what extent were you confronted by the issue of doping during your time as an athlete? Would you have known how to obtain performance-enhancing drugs, or were you ever offered any?
As an athlete I have always been disgusted by doping, but I’ve never delved into it much. I do know that I had to be careful with what medication I took. Every athlete has to know that can be banned substances in products such as flu medications. It important to make athletes aware of all the dangers and ensure they're kept up-to-date so as to prevent them from making a big mistake out of ignorance.
In the fight against doping what successes can you point to as sports minister?
What I managed to achieve in the anti-doping battle in Poland played a significant role in my being elected as president of WADA. When I took office, our anti-doping rules deviated significantly from the latest WADA standards. I made amendments to the rules and brought them in line with the WADA code. Furthermore, I introduced an anti-doping law which numbers among the most effective in the world. I also significantly increased the budget dedicated to tackling the issue of doping.
The Polish anti-doping agency, POLADA, now has the best technology at its disposal in its investigative department. We were a long way behind in the fight against doping and now we are a role model for other countries. Since then we've helped countries like Azerbaijan in reorganizing their own anti-doping campaigns. The Ukraine is also working closely with us. POLADA is now considered one of the world's leading anti-doping agencies in terms of number of doping tests and powers. This, I managed to achieve in my short time as minister.
What targets have you set yourself as WADA president?
There are a lot of targets. Above all, we've got to increase the number of doping tests and get rid of any ungoverned areas on the world map. The worldwide anti-doping network is not dense enough. There are still countries operating without anti-doping legislation or tests. Just look at Africa, where there are still too few tests done. We have almost 30 accredited anti-doping laboratories across the globe, but only one of those is in Africa, in South Africa. Many countries still have to send their samples to other continents. That costs a lot of money and that is a big problem that falls under WADA's remit. In my election campaign I made constant references to the 2016 Summer Olympics. Roughly 10 percent of the medal winners came from countries with no or very weak anti-doping programs. This is a huge challenge facing WADA. One idea, for instance, would be to create a solidarity fund that would help support the battle against doping in Africa, by setting up further WADA accredited laboratories. We can also invest heavily in educating athletes as to how serious a crime doping is.
Where would you find the funding for a solidarity fund?
That's a very good question. The problem facing WADA and anti-doping efforts in general is a very small budget. We're talking about $35-40 million (€32-€36 million). If WADA is to become more effective, the budget has to be increased significantly. $35-$40 million is a ridiculous budget for the global battle against doping. That's why we came up with the idea of a solidarity fund, which would strengthen WADA's activities, help to carry out more tests and finance more accredited laboratories, especially in Africa. Quality of testing is extremely important, and any inaccuracies in an investigation can lead to the results being questioned, but quantity is important as well.
The talk is of one percent of all sponsorship money being targeted for the fight against doping. Is this a realistic figure?
I will have a lot of conversations and have to do a lot of persuading. But if you want to be a sports sponsor and head a socially responsible company, you want the athletes you support to be clean.
That almost sounds like a condition.
It sounds like responsibility when it comes to sports sponsorship. It's not about putting people under pressure. Rather, we need to show the business world that sport is an incredibly beautiful way of life that we need to defend. Maybe sport is the only thing left in the world that is capable of forming a community, promoting tolerance and respect for another person. Maybe sport is the best teacher for children and teenagers — but only clean sport.
DW: When talking about you goals as head of WADA, you often speak of transparency. What do you mean by that?
I would like to improve the communication with the athletes, to disclose the decision-making processes within WADA. We need improved consultation with athletes when taking important decisions. Another important concern is the communication of knowledge to young athletes. They need to be informed about the consequences of doping and that clean sport is what we value the most.
Witold Banka wants to establish a new solidarity fund to make anti-doping more effective, especially in Africa
To what extent is your political past an asset? Fair play is an ideal that applies to sports, but not necessarily to politics …
WADA isn't just a sports organization; it also has geopolitical importance. It's not a serene cruise, but a difficult voyage through thunder and lightning. Still, sport is perhaps the one value that is capable of uniting us all. I intend to do everything I can to protect clean sport and remove every single cheat — without exception. Dopers are cheats and cheats must be eliminated. Unfortunately, dopers are very innovative, so we need to more innovative in order to keep up. To do that, we need new, better methods and more funds – also in order to intensify our cooperation with professional investigators.
One good example of the effective cooperation between WADA and professional investigators is Operation Viribus, where WADA worked brilliantly with EUROPOL to close down illegal laboratories which were producing steroids and confiscate large amounts of doping substances. Just like in Operation Bloodletting, athletes were caught in the act thanks to the cooperation between German and Austrian investigators. That is the future of WADA and this is where my political experience can help, through my ability to build bridges and reach compromises, and my experience in dealing with other organizations.
So you want a more intensive cooperation with EUROPOL and other authorities?
Yes, of course! That is the future of anti-doping efforts. The battle against doping doesn't just consist of more tests for athletes. Without the cooperation of investigators, we'll never be capable of combating doping effectively.
You have inherited the issue of Russia from your predecessor and will need to decide how to deal with RUSADA and Russian sport in future. As a Pole, you probably have a different relationship with Russia than Craig Reedie. Will that help or hinder you to find the right recipe when it comes to dealing with Russia?
I want to approach my future role responsibly. Doping doesn't wear national colors and we need to eliminate it from sport whether the cheats come from Poland, Russia, the USA. My stance on that is quite clear. There will be zero tolerance for athletes who manipulate, lie or deceive, or for states or organizations that facilitate cheating. Should there ever be a repeat of the Russia situation, we will react accordingly, regardless which country is involved.
As for Russia itself, we're currently waiting for our experts' report and the recommendations of the WADA Compliance Committee. Should the experts prove that Russia manipulated data, the consequences will be tough. But please, let's wait for the report, then we can discuss it.
Are you more suspicious when it comes to Russian athletes as compared to athletes from other countries?
We are aware that the Sochi scandal arouses a natural distrust. But here, too, rules must be followed. Hard evidence is required. If proof is found that tampering has occurred, the regarding Russia and those who did the tampering will be severe.
What else needs to happen in order to take strong action against Russia?
The catalogue of potential sanctions available to us today is very precise compared to the during the crisis that followed the Sochi scandal. At that time, WADA had less formal and legal means to react appropriately. In the meantime, precise rules are in place for dealing with this sort of scenario. But we must approach every case with patience and calm and give WADA the time to analyze every situation carefully.
What do you intend to do differently from your predecessor as WADA president, Craig Reedie?
I consider communication very important. WADA must improve its dialogue with athletes, but also with the media. We need to explain our policies better. I want to be more open to the media and to athletes. I want to discuss and share my views.
What do you make of Nike's Oregon project?
I do not want to comment on Nike as a company. Indeed, it wouldn't be right for me to comment on any single company.
Would you support sponsor-managed teams like the Oregon Project when it is clear that they do clean sports?
I am in favor of clean sport. Athletes should be able to training an optimal environment - but only providing they adhere to the fundamental tennents of clean sport.
How do you assess how the anti-doping fight is being waged in Germany?
Germany is one of the countries with a leading role in anti-doping efforts, both in terms of legal regulations, which are very strict, but also in terms of the number of tests. In the past, we Poles have cooperated closely with the Germans in the fight against doping. Cooperation between our ministries on anti-doping policy has also been very close. As president of WADA, I also hope for similarly good cooperation with the German government.
Witold Banka is a Polish politician and former sprinter who specialized in the 400 meters. He won gold for Poland in the 4 x 400 meters relay at the under-23 European Athletics Championships in 2005 and at the Universidade in 2007. In the same event he won silver with the Polish team at the 2009 Universiade. He ended his sports career in 2012, and three years later Banka was appointed Poland’s minister of sport and tourism. He has been a member of the governing PiS party since April 2016. In 2018, Banka announced his intention to run for president of WADA.
The interview was conducted by Peter Wozny and Magdelena.