MEET THE ELITE
NAME: Benjamin Cohen
AISTS CLASS: 2008
POSITION: Director of the International Testing Agency (ITA)
Article written in conjunction with SportBusiness in July 2017.
As director of WADA’s European Office and International Federation Relations, Ben Cohen has one of the pivotal roles in sport.
From the Maison du Sport International in the Olympic Capital Lausanne, the largest of WADA’s regional offices provides a broad range of support for international federations and European national anti-doping organisations equipping them in the fight for clean sport.
It is a role he was appointed to only last year and one which he relishes.
“The role involves being proactive in helping the federations to adopt the best anti-doping programs possible but, of course, there is a reactive element because it is in the nature of the job that we come up against things you can’t control or anticipate and those are often the things which make it onto the front pages of the newspapers and across the media,” he says.
The Lausanne native joined WADA from FIBA, where he had been head of governance and legal affairs for more than seven years and is the latest step in a wide-ranging career in sport which started at the United Nations Office of Sport in New York and has taken in a role at UEFA along the way.
Cohen says that while a career in sport was always on his agenda, it was his experience at AISTS, the Académie Internationale des Sciences et Techniques du Sport, which broadened his horizons and capabilities and set him on his current path.
Lausanne-based AISTS was founded in 2000 by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other various Swiss educational institutions to help ensure a flow of talent matching the needs of the ever-more-complex and technical sports sector.
Cohen had already qualified as a lawyer and was working for the UN in New York when he was accepted for a place on the AISTS Masters of Advanced Studies in Sports Administration and Technology program and, while it was a big decision to leave the Big Apple behind, it was one he has never regretted.
“After qualifying I specialised in sports law but the more transverse approach of AISTS introduced me to the broader aspects of sport from medicine to technology, management and sociology,” he said. “I wanted to get a broader and more rounded perception and understanding of sport and being on the AISTS course taught me so much.
“Being in Lausanne, at the heart of so much of the sports world, meant that, in addition to great lecturers, we had different experts talking to us nearly every day.
“To have so many people with real operational experience at the highest level makes it truly unique.
“But it is not only the staff and guest lecturers who are so important but the nature of the organisation and its network of universities in Geneva and Lausanne with the world-renowned EPFL, IMD and Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne. These high quality academic partners are vital.
“It is an amazing programme where I met people from all over the world with different interests and backgrounds. The course itself and the people I met along the way have been so important for me.”
Building your network
In fact, one of Ben’s research projects, a study for the Council of Europe into the autonomy of sport and his Masters thesis on the governance of world football, got him noticed by UEFA and led to the offer of an internship and then a full role.
“Carrying out projects which have real value for clients which are sports organisations is priceless as a student because you are doing something that really matters, learning skills and building your network,” he says.
Cohen certainly believes that his experience at AISTS succeeded in providing him with the breadth of perspective and experience which has enabled him to develop his career in new ways and provides an interesting rationale for his move to WADA.
“In the time I was at FIBA I saw it grow from a small office of 26 people near Geneva airport to the far bigger, modern and sophisticated organisation it is today,” he says.
“In many ways my new role may not be seen as quite so sexy but I feel that it was the right thing to do to be involved in the fight for clean sport.”
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