By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – Poland’s Sport and Tourism Minister Witold Banka is set to become the next president of the troubled World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) after a vote on Tuesday left him as the only remaining candidate.
Banka, an elite athlete who helped Poland win a bronze medal in the 4×400 metres relay at the 2007 world championships, beat Dominican Republic Vice-Minister of Sport and Tourism Marcos Diaz in a vote to replace the outgoing Craig Reedie.
Banka will take over an agency in turmoil as WADA emerges from a Russian scandal that fractured the anti-doping movement.
“This is an important moment for Poland. Being chosen is a great honour, but also a great responsibility,” Banka told Polish news channel TVP Info.
The vote was taken by the representatives of the Public Authorities — the 21 government members who sit on the WADA Executive Committee and Foundation board — in Montreal.
The 34-year-old will be formally confirmed as the fourth WADA president during the World Conference on Doping in Sport in Katowice, Poland from Nov. 5-7.
If anyone else is to challenge Banka they must have the support of at least one Foundation Board member and submit their candidacy to WADA before a May 31 deadline.
Outspoken WADA Vice-President Linda Helleland was once viewed as a leading contender for the top job at WADA but Banka was chosen by the Council of Europe as its candidate.
The former Norwegian minister, who was critical of the Executive Committee’s controversial decision last September to reinstate the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), has not given any indication she will challenge the Pole a second time.
RUSADA was suspended in 2015 after a WADA-commissioned report by Canadian lawyer Dick Pound outlined evidence of state-backed, systematic doping in Russian athletics.
The Russian agency’s reinstatement last year angered a string of sports bodies and athletes around the world.
But the long-running saga appears headed for a conclusion with WADA having forced Russia, as part of the conditions for reinstatement, to turn over data and samples from the tainted Moscow lab which are now being analysed.
Restoring confidence and trust will be Banka’s first job.
Travis Tygart, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief who had been critical of Reedie and WADA’s handling of the Russian affair, offered his congratulations to Banka in a statement, adding he hoped the two men might work together.
“We are excited and ready to get to work with him and those committed to protecting clean sport to achieve the mutual goals of restoring trust to the organisation with athletes and the public, most importantly giving all athletes a true voice in the fight against doping,” said the USADA president.
(Additional reporting by Alan Charlish in Warsaw; Editing by Ken Ferris)