WADA open to athletes' concerns

LONDON -- The World Anti-Doping Agency is sticking with its whereabouts rule for out-of-competition testing but will consider any proposed changes from athletes who consider the system intrusive.

WADA director general David Howman said Tuesday he held "fruitful and positive" talks in London with national and international athletes' groups from various professional sports, including soccer, track and field, cricket and rugby, to allay their concerns over the revised rules.

"One of the major complaints they have had is not being involved in consultation," Howman told The Associated Press. "We feel we should be hearing from them and we will make sure that happens in the future."

He acknowledged that there was a "degree of discomfort" among some groups about the rule requiring athletes to provide their daily whereabouts for out-of-competition doping controls.

Under the latest WADA code that took effect Jan. 1, athletes must give three months' notice of where and when they can be located for testing one hour a day -- seven days a week, between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. The information is registered online and can be updated by e-mail or text message.

Previously, the rules applied only five days a week and athletes would only have to be at the stated location for a portion of that hour.

Top-ranked tennis players Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams have been among the outspoken critics of the new system. Williams called the rules "over the top" and "very invasive." Nadal said players feel they are being treated like "criminals."

In Belgium, 65 athletes have filed a court challenge against the WADA rules.

"We feel reasonably confident that whatever challenge we receive going forward will be met," Howman said.

Howman urged patience with the new system, but said WADA was open to listen to proposed changes if there are problems.

"It's only been in place for six weeks," he said. "It needs to develop and we'll see how it runs. If there are hiccups or problems in the system, then we will be receptive to suggested changes. We've got to give these things a try. Six weeks is too early.

"If there are justifiable technical complaints, we'll listen. Don't ask me on Feb. 17, ask me on Dec. 31. We have to see how the changes pan out."

Under the rule, three missed tests or three warnings for failing to file whereabouts information within an 18-month period constitute a doping violation and can lead to sanctions.

Howman said he had received reports of only three filing failures so far.

"That's not sufficient to warrant a change," he said. "At present, we all feel this is a system that warrants practice. Once it's been practiced, then you can make changes as we go on. It's not set in concrete. The code is a living document."

Among the groups meeting with Howman was the Professional Players Federation, which represents soccer players in England.

"We've got concerns about the whereabouts rules and filing violations," PPF chairman Brendon Batson said. "If athletes don't input the correct info, and testers turn up, they could have a strike against them. At least we were able to put these real concerns to WADA. In the past we haven't had that opportunity."

The international players union, FIFPro, did not attend.

"We didn't really need another session about the information," said Wil van Megen, chief of FIFPro's legal department. "We want to know in advance whether there is something that we can achieve during such meetings because listening to how they view the situation is nothing new for us."