April 9, 2009 / 1:18 PM / 11 years ago

Panel says WADA "whereabouts" rule breaks EU laws

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Many parts of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) “whereabouts” rule contravene the bloc’s privacy laws, a key European Union (EU) panel will say next week, according to sources familiar with the matter.

A panel of 27 national experts met on Tuesday and Wednesday and will publish their legal opinion after Easter on the rule requiring athletes to give detailed schedules of their whereabouts for drug testing.

The rule has angered many individuals and sports organisations and has led to legal challenges.

“The panel sympathised with the motives behind the rule and saw the merits of it. But it also found that many aspects contravened EU laws on data protection, privacy and freedom,” one source with knowledge of the opinion said.

The panel’s decision will form the basis of a broader and far-reaching binding legal opinion by the European Commission, the executive arm which oversees EU legislation within the 27-nation bloc due to be published before the northern summer.

EU Sports Commissioner Jan Figel had asked WADA to suspend the rule, in force since January 1, while Brussels examined it. He said in an interview with Reuters last month that the rule should “be potentially amended.”

WADA says out-of-competition testing is key to catching cheats because short-notice tests are essential as many illegal substances can become untraceable within 24 hours.

FIFA TALKS

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) supports the rule but many top athletes such as tennis world number one Rafa Nadal and Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva say they oppose the policy under which athletes have to give three months’ notice of where they will be for an hour each day.

A legal challenge has been lodged in Belgium on behalf of 65 athletes, including cyclists and volleyball players, who argue the rule breaks EU privacy laws. FIFPro, the soccer players’ union, is also mounting a case.

WADA held talks earlier this week with soccer’s world governing body FIFA and the powerful European body UEFA who say the rule should apply only to teams and not individual players.

FIFA also say out-of-competition tests should take place only at club training facilities and players should not be tested during holidays in order to respect their private lives.

FIFA said it had reached a deal with WADA for a pilot scheme for soccer in Europe with a view to reaching a firm agreement at the end of the year for drug-testing elite soccer players.

The plan agreed will limit the number of players required to detail their whereabouts every day during the off-season, allowing team sports such as soccer to target testing on players defined as “at risk” — such as those recovering from injury or who had previously used a banned substance.

“There is a common agreement,” FIFA chief medical officer Jiri Dvora told Reuters.

“In UEFA competitions, we will test 10 players per team. Unlike individuals, we know where soccer teams are in Europe at least 49 weeks of the year.

“The FIFA plan will be monitored this year before WADA considers whether to change its drug-testing standards for 2010,” Dvora said.

Editing by Clare Fallon

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