(Reuters) - The United States warned the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to keep out of its sovereign affairs on Thursday, refusing to remove the threat of pulling funding from the body unless reforms it demands are enacted.
Both WADA and U.S. officials expressed the need for cooperation and dialogue during a virtual Foundation Board meeting but it was clear WADA is taking the threat seriously, saying it had prepared two budgets for 2021, one that includes U.S. funding and another that does not.
Believing the U.S. threat exposed gaps in the WADA Code, the executive committee and Foundation Board discussed possible sanctions to member countries for unilaterally withdrawing agreed funding, further angering the U.S.
A White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) report in June recommended the U.S. Congress hold back funding unless it receives a greater voice in WADA decision making and reforms immediately implemented.
"The United States strongly opposes any attempt to amend the Code to penalise public authorities that decide to withdraw funds from WADA," ONDCP spokesperson Anthony Jones told the Foundation Board.
"We see it as a personal attack on the United States and it would be contrary to WADA's stated desire to improve relationships with the United States government.
"The WADA 2021 Code has not even come into effect yet, yet WADA is seeking to revise the Code to single out the United States government.
"We view this as an affront to the sovereignty of the law of public authorities and it would undermine the legitimate authority of governments to independently evaluate whether to spend public funds."
The WADA budget for 2021 was set at $43.4 million, chief financial officer Dao Chung outlining two scenarios, one including the U.S. contribution of $2.9 million and one without.
If the U.S. does follow through on its threat, Chung said it would force WADA to make cuts but hoped to mitigate any losses with additional contributions from public authorities.
The U.S. used the meeting to air a long list of grievances ranging from WADA's concerns over the Rodchenkov Act, now waiting approval in the U.S. Senate, to former WADA boss Dick Pound being named an honorary president.
WADA has expressed concern that the Rodchenkov Act, named after the whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov who helped expose Russia's state-sponsored doping, could destabilise the global anti-doping effort while giving U.S. professional and college athletes a free pass.
"The major leagues and college sports the majority of U.S. athletes around 80 to 90% are outside the WADA regulatory regime and anti-doping Code requirements," WADA president Witold Banka said.
"I am concerned these athletes will not be covered by the Rodchenkov Act, that was made possible by an initial amendment to the bill."
The ONDCP, however, sees WADA's comments as nothing more than meddling in U.S. affairs.
"The United States advises against WADA's continued opposition to the Rodchenkov," Jones said. "We duly oppose WADA's interference in the affairs of a sovereign nation."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)
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