Former Paralympian Vicki Aggar speaks out amid unprecedented athlete uprising against World Anti-Doping Agency

Vicki Aggar says she is no troublemaker but will keep pushing for change as the anti-WADA uprising grows stronger. Credit: BPA

The World Anti-Doping Agency must surely now be getting the message.

Its decision to give Russia another chance is not what the current, unprecedented athlete uprising is all about.

Yes, it was the catalyst, but the picture is much bigger than that one, controversial, compromise.

Vicki Aggar, the retired Paralympian who chairs the British Athletes Commission admits she considered resigning her position as a WADA athlete committee member but decided against it, because she’s determined to force change from the inside.

She began that seemingly impossible task recently, posting an open letter to WADA President Sir Craig Reedie outlining her concerns about the Russia decision.

Aggar considered his public response to be “patronising.” She resisted replying, preferring to meet him face to face, “I want to eyeball him” she told me.

“Sir Craig seemed to think I was just challenging the decision (to reinstate Russia) but it goes way beyond that. The issue is much broader, it’s about governance and the need for WADA to be more independent.”

Aggar says since she began speaking out, some have concluded “I’m there just to cause trouble. I’m not.”

She says the athletes want a fair and robust WADA which is probably best achieved under new leadership.

But if that’s not going to happen she wants that same leadership to ask themselves “Why are they in that job? What are their motivations?”

Governance as an issue is far from sexy and neither is it a great headline grabber, so Aggar and the global athlete community have their work cut out.

Fundamentally though what they want is very simple - a louder voice.

WADA is half funded by the International Olympic Committee and national governments contribute the rest.

And there’s the root of the problem - those responsible for promoting sport and protecting its image are also paying for it to be policed. There is no escape from the conflict of interest.

She highlights the experience of the former IOC athlete figurehead Beckie Scott who claims she was bullied, belittled and even laughed at by senior officials over the Russia question. She quit her post as a result.

Aggar stands shoulder to shoulder with Scott and thinks the treatment she endured needs to be investigated “I think Beckie’s concerns should be addressed and someone should be made accountable. That type of behaviour is unacceptable and there should be an independent review and appropriate actions taken as a result.”

Former cross-country skiing athlete Beckie Scott resigned from WADA last month. Credit: AP

WADA responded via email on Monday evening to Ms Aggar’s allegations: “It is certainly not the intention of Sir Craig to patronise Ms Aggar in his comprehensive and factual 1,200-word response to her letter. The intention is to acknowledge her concerns and fully explain the reasoning behind the carefully considered and democratic decision taken on 20 September.”

It goes on: “ Beyond that, he directly addresses her concerns about WADA independence by pointing to a process of review that is already ongoing. He says that WADA’s Athlete Committee and other athlete groups are indeed represented and active on the Governance Working Group, which is chaired by an independent person.”

To date the IOC has not responded to Scott’s allegations.

It has been heavily criticised for not doing so with some close to the anti-doping community going as far as to say that their silence speaks volumes about how seriously they take the issue.

Aggar says under the previous Director General, David Howman, WADA was far more “pro athlete” but notes that since he left “things have moved significantly.”

Now Aggar believes the independent athlete is side-lined “we need more athlete voices, more informed voices not tokenistic ones.”

The implication being that only the IOC appointed athlete representatives are listened to or at least given the opportunity to express their views.

Aggar supports the radical new proposals put forward by British power lifter Ali Jawad last week and hopes that WADA considers them closely as it contemplates reforms of its own.

British power lifter Ali Jawad is leading the group. Credit: AP

“I think WADA could do an awful lot. They could go back to principled decision-making and listen to the global athlete voice.”

Aggar and a growing number of disillusioned athletes will find out within the next few months whether that is likely or not.

In the meantime, this growing group will rely on Aggar and those like her, who are passionate about clean sport, to continue the challenge from within - however hard that is currently proving to be.