Linda Helleland had her share of confrontations with top Norwegian sports bureaucrats when she was the government minister in charge of national funding for athletics. She went on to run for president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and now she’s so indignant over how powerful men in the sports world operate that she doesn’t think Norway should arrange another Olympics before there are major changes within its ruling organization and at WADA.
“One thing I’m completely convinced about is that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) has become too powerful,” writes Helleland, who remains a Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party, in her new book. “They have a monopoly on the world’s largest sporting events, and they manage it poorly. It’s not the IOC or their small athletic nobility in Switzerland who owns sports. You and I do.”
She calls the IOC “a cult” and “an anti-democratic organization” that resists openness, while WADA, in her opinion, is run by men more concerned with their own positions than keeping sports free of drugs. She became a vice president at WADA four years ago, only to feel “ridiculed” and “frozen out” after she “asked too many critical questions.” She claims the IOC especially fears openness, “therefore that’s my best weapon,” she told Oslo newspaper Dagsavisen. She thinks the IOC also has too much influence on WADA,, noting that the two organizations finance and share board seats between themselves.
Helleland has sparked strong reaction from her targets of criticism in the days since her book came out and she was interviewed by nearly all the major Norwegian media. The title of her book alone sums up her experience as a vice president at WADA: Ren idrett, skittent spill (Clean athletics, dirty tactics). She minces few words in describing how the organization works, and what happened when she ran for president on a platform of change.
Subjected to ‘full isolation’
“They began by freezing me out … and withholding information from me,” Helleland told reporters at the book launch. “After that there was ridicule, they began to question my integrity.” By the time she decided to step down at the end of this year, after losing her bid for the WADA presidency, “it’s been full isolation.”
Helleland had once been an eager promoter of another Winter Olympics in Oslo, but changed her mind completely and played a role in rejecting IOC’s financial guarantee demand for a winter games in 2022. Asked what made her change her mind, she told Dagsavisen it was the list of demands from the IOC, for such thinks like luxury hotel suites “with butlers” and chauffered cars at IOC members’ disposal.
Norwegians were already highly critical to the enormous expense of mounting an Olympics and “I understood it wouldn’t be be possible to defend (what IOC members demanded) before the Norwegian people,” Helleland said. “They wanted a cocktail party at the royal palace at the king’s expense.”
That sort of thing “has to change,” Helleland claimed, but it hasn’t yet. Norway’s member on the IOC, Kristin Kloster Aasen, was asked for her reaction to Helleland’s claim that it’s an “anti-democratic” organization and sent the following text message to Dagsavisen: “Through my work at the IOC, my experience is that there are good and thorough processes as a foundation for decisions. So that’s not in line with Helleland’s description.”
WADA officials also fired back at Helleland’s description of their operation in her book, co-authored by Ståle Økland. Outgoing WADA president Craig Reedie told state broadcaster NRK that Helleland spent all her time in her post “working for herself.” He claims she did not try “to engage” with him or other WADA leaders.
Reedie claims he always has had anti-doping as his main priority, calling Helleland’s criticism “vague, petty and false, without foundation.” They also disagreed over a bonus for WADA’s secretary general, which Helleland claims she felt “almost forced” to go along with. She did agree, however, with his stand on banning Russian athletes from the Olympics in Rio in 2016. The IOC ended up letting the various athletics federations decide.
Witold Banka of Poland will take over as the new president of WADA from January 1. Helleland still has a seat in Parliament, representing the Conservatives.