February 13, 2019 / 4:42 PM / 7 days ago

Olympics: Athlete-led group forms to drive change in sporting world

(Reuters) - Athletes around the world must be at the forefront of shaping the future of global sport, British Olympic cycling champion Callum Skinner said on Wednesday as he fronts a new athlete-led organization launched following recent scandals.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Callum Skinner poses at Rio Olympic Velodrome - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 14/08/2016. REUTERS/Matthew Childs

Global Athlete, the creation of which comes after a Russian doping crisis and USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal, says it will empower Olympic athletes to speak up and work toward addressing a disconnect between competitors and sports leaders.

The independent body will focus on issues such as calling for a more robust anti-doping system, better athlete welfare and ensuring athletes receive some Olympic revenues or prize money.

According to Skinner, sports governance lags far behind other sectors of society in terms of engaging their constituents and athletes care about how sport is run and want an opportunity to provide input in shaping its future.

Skinner, who won a gold medal in the team sprint at the 2016 Rio Olympics, decided to get involved with the new organization after becoming frustrated at how the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) lifted a ban on the Russian Anti-Doping Agency last year.

Skinner was among those on Britain’s Anti-Doping Athlete Commission who sent a letter to WADA to say readmitting Russia before it fulfilled the roadmap to code compliance would be to ignore the wishes of the athletes WADA are there to protect.

“My thoughts on that was really disappointing that we didn’t get the result that we wanted but on the other hand it was incredibly positive how we all came together as a group and a nation,” Skinner said in a telephone interview from London.

“So it seemed a bit of a waste to let that (momentum) fizzle out and to let that die in essence without finding some way to continue that growing.”

Skinner jumped on board with Global Athlete, saying a sporting landscape that is democratic, representative and in-touch with wider society and opinion is critical to progress and staying relevant.

The body, which expects to have more high-profile athletes on board in the coming days, also said it has appointed former WADA Deputy Director General Rob Koehler as Director General.

Koehler, who abruptly left WADA last year, will lead a so-called “listening exercise” with athletes in all countries over the next eight months to gain a full understanding of the changes they want to see in sport.

Koehler said it is time competitors had a greater role in decision making after too many years of being on the sidelines.

He added that Global Athlete will be humble in its approach and that it will take time before the movement bears fruit.

“We have time to work with the athletes, we have time to be able to make sure we do it right,” Koehler told Reuters in a telephone interview from Montreal.

“We don’t want to rush things because that potentially could be a trap you fall into where you start running forward and running too fast before you really get a handle on the issues that need to come.”

Global Athlete is being funded initially by independent foundation FairSport along with individual donors who will have no part in the decision making or operations of the movement.

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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