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Europe chooses Polish sports minister to head World Anti-Doping Agency

Warsaw, Poland – European countries have picked Poland’s current Sports Minister Witold Banka to be their candidate to become the next head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Witold Banka, a 34 years old former athlete and representative of Europe on WADA’s executive committee since May 2017, said he wanted to establish a separate funding mechanism to help countries with less-developed anti-doping systems and policies fight the problem and improve the communication and relations with athletes.

His other proposals to improve the efficiency and reliability of the World Anti-Doping Agency include opening more anti-doping laboratories around the world and improving the cooperation between sports movements and national governments.

According to the Polish Ministry of Sport and Tourism, Witold Banka received 28 votes to be Europe’s candidate for the top job, defeating Linda Helleland from Norway and Philippe Muyters from Belgium, during the vote that took place at the ad hoc European Committee for the World Anti-Doping Agency at the Council of Europe’s seat in Strasbourg, France.

Candidates must announce their bid by May 2019. So far, Dominican swimmer Marcos Diaz is the only one, apart from Banka, who said he will run to replace current chairman Craig Reedie, a Scottish sports administrator who assumed office in 2014. The final vote for WADA’s new president will take place during the 5th World Conference on Doping in Sports to be held in Katowice, Poland, on November 5 – 7 at the end of the year.

“This is a great honor, a great privilege for me and also a huge responsibility”, Banka, a former 400 metres sprinter who received the bronze medal at the 2007 World Championships, told Poland’s news agency after winning the vote.

The international agency in charge of supervising world anti-doping activities has faced criticism for its handling of its Russian affiliate, and Banka has vowed to implement a new approach to address the issue of doping in Russia.

In 2015, a WADA-commissioned report found proof of state-sponsored doping activities in Russian athletics, and decide to suspend Russia’s anti-doping agency RUSADA. The ban was lifted in 2018 by the World Anti-Doping Agency, and not re-imposed last week despite the Russian affiliate failing to meet the conditions to keep its accreditation and hand over laboratory data before the end of the year. As Reuters reported, however, WADA announced on January 17 that it had finally recovered the data from RUSADA.

The World Anti-Doping Agency was established 20 years ago in November 1999 in Lausanne, Switzerland, as an initiative of the International Olympic Committee to set-up an international and more effective anti-doping platform after the series of scandals that shook the world of cycling in the Tour de France 1998, more commonly known as the ‘Festina affair’.

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