(Reuters) - Athlete groups renewed calls for further reforms of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as the embattled body began virtual executive committee and Foundation Board meetings on Wednesday.
Governance reforms are at the top of the agenda, which includes an update on Russia's appeal against a four-year ban before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, that the executive committee will tackle followed by the Foundation Board.
Russia was sanctioned last year after WADA concluded that Moscow had planted fake evidence and deleted files linked to positive doping tests in laboratory data that could have helped identify drug cheats.
Also to be discussed is the impact of COVID-19 on anti-doping efforts and testing, and WADA's 2021 budget.
The U.S. sparked controversy this year when it threatened to pull funding unless it received greater representation on WADA's boards and committees.
Athlete groups and some National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) are demanding WADA speeds up reforms calling for more independence, transparency and accountability.
In a joint statement, 14 athlete groups and 14 NADOs, including the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), called for "substantive change" at WADA.
"We all will benefit from a stronger and more effective WADA that builds trust with athletes and effectively carries out its mission," the statement said.
"WADA’s standing can only be improved through meaningful reforms that embrace both independent athlete representatives and NADOs as essential components of global anti-doping governance."
One third of both the WADA executive committee and Foundation Board are former or current elite level athletes.
In response to athlete demands, WADA noted that it has made "significant progress" in many areas, announcing on Wednesday that the executive committee had approved the composition of a new expert working group on the Review of WADA Governance Reforms.
The group of five governance experts and one athlete will be responsible for monitoring the effect of the ongoing reforms.
"WADA welcomes any constructive proposal to further strengthen its governance, which has undergone extensive reform since 2016," WADA said in a statement sent to Reuters.
"Lately, WADA has made significant progress in the area of governance reform, with a swing towards independence and additional representation for athletes and National Anti-Doping Organizations."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)