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Former Wada deputy director general fronts new organisation seeking to empower athletes

A new international athlete-led movement for change has launched, with the remit of collectively addressing the balance of power between athletes and sporting leaders, and granting athletes an opportunity for meaningful input into how sport is run.

Global Athlete will be led by former World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) deputy director general Rob Koehler, who has been appointed director general of the organisation after leaving his former post last year. Global Athlete is being funded initially by the FairSport organisation along with other individual donors.

The new body has stressed it will be entirely independent from government, sport and National Anti-Doping Organisations, adding that its funders will have no part in the decision-making or operations of the movement.

Global Athlete’s formation comes at a time when sports stars have expressed their dissatisfaction at the handling of the likes of the Russian doping crisis and the sex abuse scandal in US gymnastics. Koehler is set to lead a “listening exercise” with athletes in all countries in the coming months to understand what changes they want to see in sport.

He said: “Everyone has a role to play to grow sport and that includes athletes who want a greater role at the decision-making level. For too many years, athletes have been sidelined when speaking up – the fear of retribution must stop.

“Athletes have an inherent interest in a healthy sporting environment and to leave sport in a better place then they found it. The long-term well-being of sport can only benefit from more meaningful athlete engagement.

“Athletes are the ones that fill the stadiums and attract TV viewership and sponsors; so surely it is only right that they become a part of developing the sport that they want. I want athletes to know that we are here to listen, engage and empower. There is a clear realisation that change has been demanded, and change is now coming.”

Global Athlete has encouraged sports stars to sign up to their movement, with Callum Skinner, a gold medal winner for Great Britain in track cycling at the 2016 summer Olympic Games having committed to playing a leading role in mobilising athletes.

He said: “We want to reach out to athletes across the world to find common ground that all athletes, from east or west, can get behind. It may be issues such as better athlete welfare, harassment, ensuring that athletes receive some Olympic revenues or prize money, a more robust anti-doping system, or better representation at the top table of governance.

“It’s 2019, and, frankly speaking, sports governance lags far behind other sectors of society in terms of engaging their constituents. As we’ve seen of late, athletes care deeply about how their sport is run, and they want an opportunity to provide input and to help shape sport’s future. A sporting landscape that it is democratic, representative and in-touch with wider society and opinion is critical to progress and staying relevant.”

Claims made during the unveiling of Global Athlete have already drawn a response from the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission. It said in a statement: “At this stage we only know about this group from what we have read in a press release and there remain many unanswered questions about universality, accountability and funding.

“It’s disappointing that this group seems to believe that none of us care about athletes and that none of us do a good job for athletes if we are part of the Olympic Movement. The IOC Athletes representatives are democratically elected by their peers from all 206 National Olympic Committees. Our many differences and our many different views make us stronger together.”

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