WADA President targeted by Russian prank callers. GETTY IMAGES

A recording of the Polish President of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Witold Banka, the victim of a prank call from someone claiming to be a senior official of the African Union Commission has been posted online. The caller asked questions about the Russian-backed multi-sport event, the Friendship Games, about which WADA had previously raised anti-doping concerns.

The International Olympic Committee revealed that its president Thomas Bach had been the victim of a hoax call on 22 March, amid rising tensions with Russia over restrictions on its athletes competing at the Paris Games. On the same day, WADA confirmed that it had also been the target of a hoax call from Russian pranksters Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, known as Vovan and Lexus.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni spoke about international fatigue with the conflict in Ukraine in a call with these Russian pranksters in September 2023, who have duped other Western politicians and celebrities to elicit candid, unguarded remarks.Vovan and Lexus also tricked the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, in November 2022. Duda thought he was speaking to French President Emmanuel Macron.

Witold Bańka, President of the World Anti-Doping Agency. GETTY IMAGES
Witold Bańka, President of the World Anti-Doping Agency. GETTY IMAGES

Vovan and Lexus posted a video on 27 March pretending to be the chairman of the African Union Commission and speaking to the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency during a video conference with the organisation. According to the WADA president, the Friendship Games are not a good event.The event, which will take place in Moscow and Yekaterinburg next summer, contradicts Olympic values, Banka said.

"They look very bad from a public relations point of view, from a values point of view. So we will definitely not be there. We will not monitor the anti-doping programme during these Games. And we will not be monitoring these games. So from a sporting point of view, from a WADA point of view, this event doesn't look so good. It's definitely not good. We are part of the Olympic idea. This is an event outside the system. We are not happy with this initiative," said Banka.

"Considering the organiser of these Friendship Games, the event definitely does not inspire confidence and does not give confidence to the athletes and countries that will take part in it. But together with the IOC, together with the African Union, we can express our concern. We can go back to the national Olympic committees and international sports federations and urge them not to take part. We can make a statement. However, from a political point of view, I am not sure that we can stop the Russians and force them not to hold these games."

In the conversation, Banka recalled recent comments by International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, who called on countries to refuse to take part in the Friendship Games. "We have to unite as sports and political leaders. We must stop this or at least make these Friendship Games in Russia extremely insignificant. We know very well that sport is very strong in Russia. And I think that is why they know that they have to promote sport, sport is very important to them. That is why it is necessary to ensure that this event does not have any impact on the Olympic Games," he stressed.

Banka called on the alleged African politician to urge his colleagues on the continent and in Latin America not to attend the sporting events in the Russian Federation. "But from a political point of view, I am not sure that we can stop the Russians and force them not to hold these games. It is more a political question. ... We have to coordinate our positions with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other commissions, possibly with the European Union... And we urge those concerned to refuse to take part."

"We need to talk to other African leaders and convince them not to take part in the games. We need leaders like you, more influential, who can express their views with others. And then I believe that together we can change the situation," Banka said. Instead of talking about sport, the sports official told the African thathe was close to Ukraine and was sure that "Russia will not stop and will go to other European countries".

The WADA President shared his thoughts on the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA). "We don't trust them. We cannot go there because of the war and the geopolitical situation. We cannot interview them properly. Honestly, I think there are a lot of people working in RUSADA who are very interested and I think work very well when it comes to technical issues and anti-doping testing.

Banka also saw the disqualification of Kamila Valieva as a necessary step towards changing anti-doping legislation: "After this [Valieva's disqualification] we came up with an idea with an initiative for new legislation. This is due to the recent CAS case of Russian athlete Kamila Valieva, who had doped in the past. Yes, after this scandal I took the responsibility to discuss this issue. So Valieva's case was useful for us to change a not very clear legislation. This is how we have to deal with this issue."

The IOC announced a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Paris Games opening ceremony parade, due to the war in Ukraine. That prompted a sharp response from Moscow. Russians and Belarusians will compete as neutral athletes in Paris, without their flags and anthems, and the IOC suspended the Russian Olympic Committee in October for recognising regional Olympic councils for Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine.