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Inside the anti-doping system

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Tom Fordyce | 14:12 UK time, Thursday, 9 June 2011

Andy Murray calls it "draconian". Rafael Nadal says it makes him "feel like a criminal". To anti-doping agencies around the world it's the most important weapon they have.

This is the "whereabouts" system, and I'm about to join it.

On Wednesday afternoon I was officially added to something called the National Registered Testing Pool, the first non-sportsman ever to be given such access. From now on I have to specify where I'll be for an hour a day, seven days a week, for up to three months in advance.

Why? So I am available for random out-of-competition tests. Why me? Because this is exactly what the 400 or so elite Olympians in Britain have to do, because it is the controversial heart of the fight against doping and because I want to see exactly how easy or onerous it is to stay on the right side of the system.

Christine Ohuruogu fell foul of the whereabouts system when she missed three tests - Photo: Getty

The first step, as for any athlete, is an induction session - sometimes run by their sport's governing body but often by UK Anti-Doping. I am met by Eliot Caton, athlete support officer at UKAD, and handed a red folder. Inside are user guides, log-in details and some very important contact numbers.

Eliot explains the principles: how the anti-doping programme works, the role whereabouts plays and my responsibilities as an elite athlete within it.

This is where it gets interesting. On a computer programme called Adams (Anti-Doping Administration and Management System), I must submit a mountain of information: my residence for every day in that month, whether home address, hotel or friends'; my full training schedule for every day; where I'll be competing - dates, venues, times - and where and when my one-hour slot will be.

The programme itself looks a little like Microsoft Outlook, albeit initially less intuitive and a little more fiddly. There is a clickable daily calendar, contacts section and area for direct messages. I have a unique username and password which means only UKAD and I can access my information.

Eliot's job is to make sure every athlete is comfortable with using Adams. Step by step he shows me how to upload the key details of my diary to the system.

It takes time. For every address I might stay at overnight I have to input full details - not just the name and street, but specific instructions - ring top doorbell, blue door on left, code for front gate etc.

If you spend your entire life in one place it wouldn't take very long. But sportsmen don't. Neither do sports journalists. In the next month I know I'll be in Southampton for the third Test against Sri Lanka, Wimbledon for the tennis, my Mum and Dad's for a weekend away, a stag-do in London and a hotel or two for other work trips. That's a lot of addresses.

Then there are the training venues. I am a long, long way from being an elite athlete, but I do train most days. At the moment that means bike rides, swimming and gym sessions. On each day in the online diary I have to say where I'll be training, at what times, and how I can be found.

Doing that a week in advance is hard. Doing a full month is even harder. Athletes will have a more structured schedule than me, but they still need to be extremely specific. If at, say, Lee Valley High Performance Centre, are they likely to be in the weights room, the indoor track or the outdoor track?

At the moment I'm cycling three times a week. One of those will be intervals in Richmond Park. Easy enough to input, although harder to say where I'll be in the park or on what loop. Another will be a long ride into the Surrey Hills, 80-ish miles spread over four or five hours. Which route am I likely to choose? Where will I be on it?

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It's not quite as severe as it sounds. I won't be penalised if I'm not at those training venues when I say I am, and it won't count as a missed test, although if I'm consistently not where I should be it will trigger suspicions.

The key part is that one hour window. Between 0600 and 2300, seven days a week, I must specify where and when that window will be. I must be at that location for the full hour. If I'm not, and the testers come calling, it'll count as a missed test. Three missed tests in an 18-month period means an anti-doping suspension, just like the one handed out to Christine Ohuruogu in the system's infancy back in 2006.

How hard is it? Murray and Nadal have not been the only sportsmen to complain. Pete Gardner, chief executive of the British Athletes Commission (BAC), claimed some athletes would retire rather than risk a ban through accidentally missing tests.

Last month the European Elite Athletes Association, which represents 25,000 sportsmen and women across the continent, claimed they had hundreds of members ready to say their human rights had been invaded by this imposition on their privacy. Even on Wednesday, British 100m hurdles record holder Tiffany Ofili was Tweeting: "My Adams is soooo confusing. It frustrates me every time!"

First, the philosophy. UKAD - and world governing body Wada - would say it is a small price to pay for keeping cheats out of sport. We need to believe in the performances we see, to trust that out heroes are exactly that. The out-of-competition tests the whereabouts system provides are as good a guarantee as we can currently get. For the sportsmen involved, this is their chance to prove that they are clean.

Now the practicalities. Specifying that hour is not quite as tricky as you might first think. Many sportsmen go for an early hour - say, 0630 to 0730 - knowing they will be at home in bed.

What if your plans change? What if you suddenly go away for a competition, or stay at your partner's house, or have to see the physio for treatment to an injury rather than being at home when you thought?

It shouldn't be a problem. You can now change that specified hour up to 60 seconds before it is due to start, by sending a text message, phoning a dedicated number or by going online and accessing Adams.

Neither do you have to wait till quite that late. At any point you can go into Adams, or use those other numbers, to adjust your hour for any day in the forthcoming three months.

Should you forget to input your details, or struggle to use the system properly, the education officers are on hand 24/7 to help out. They'll even keep an eye on your Adams and send you a message if it looks like you've neglected to put the right information - for example, if you're off to Spain to represent GB in an event and haven't tweaked your schedule to reflect that. Even on Wednesday night I received a text message gently warning me that my own details in Adams were incomplete and needed updating.

How will I get on? Will the system prove a piece of cake or completely unpalatable? Will it become second nature or last-gasp panic? Will I update and input as I should, or lose track and find myself on the brink of a ban?

I'll be tweeting on @tomfordyce and blogging here regularly with updates throughout the weeks ahead. In that time I'll also be speaking to sportsmen and anti-doping officials to find out how they think the system is working, how it might be improved and what challenges, legal or otherwise, lie ahead.

In the meantime I need to get onto Adams. I've got some serious data inputting to do.


  • Comment number 1.

    Thoroughly interesting blog. My view on Christine Ohuruogu are firmly on the record, so it will be interesting to hear what you think of the system and whether "it works".

    Am I correct in reading that the athlete needs to tell the system when they will be away taking part in a UK team event under the auspices of Team GB or the relevant NGB?

  • Comment number 2.

    This sounds like a really interesting experiment to follow, I'm looking forward to the updates. Good luck with not falling foul of the testers!

  • Comment number 3.

    Very interesting read. From my armchair, I see it as a good system in the fight to ensure drug-free sport. I look forward to following your progress, what a great idea to put yourself in the athletes' position to see how it affects them.

  • Comment number 4.

    "First, the philosophy. UKAD - and world governing body Wada - would say it is a small price to pay for keeping cheats out of sport."

    In that case why don't they subject themselves to this big brother type intrusion. Its a small price when you're not the person subjected to it.

  • Comment number 5.

    Can't wait for the outcome of this. Personally I think the requirements are simple and a completely minimal price for a clean sport.

    I predict that you will sail through your time in the system quite easily with no misses, and no errors. Which will then unfortunately lead me to be even more suspicious of any full-time professional athlete who manages to "miss" three tests opportunities in 18 months.

  • Comment number 6.

    Fascinating experiment. Would also be interested if you did the drugs tests. Not because I think you've anything to hide, but to see if you could be careful enough to avoid all the cough medicines, herbal teas, contaminated meat etc that are often blamed for a positive test.

    Also, I want to know if you're juicing :-)

  • Comment number 7.

    Very interesting to read and very cool for you to do it and for UK Sport to let you do it.

    But SewerSide, if he did test positive (not that he will) what would competition would he be banned from? My guess is that he would be banned from any competition that is sanctioned by a sport connected with the IOC. But, in this case it is a completely ludicrous question. :-)

  • Comment number 8.

    Athletes (from all sports) complaining about this generous system really frustrate me. If you're taking banned substances to help your training then to avoid detection you need to avoid the testers - and have 2 opportunities to do so. Only banning on the 3rd breach is very generous in my view.

    Have you thought of also signing up to the Biological Passport that cycling has in addition to whereabouts?

    And to those of you who say "other sports are cleaner than cycling and don't need the passport" - I point you in the direction of Operacion Puerto....

  • Comment number 9.

    Hey all

    Jordan - I'll check, but I think it's each athlete's responsibility to update their own. You can (I think) give someone else, like your agent, you log-in details so they can do it for you, particularly if they've booked your race, flight, accomm etc.

    Sewerside - I'll go into the supplements/medications issues next week. Even at my level I've got lots of things (energy gels on long bike rides, recovery powders on return) I'll need to check.

    Interestingly, I'm 24 hours in and I've already received two texts from the system reminding me to fill in more details of where I'll be when. Need to get cracking...

  • Comment number 10.

    SewerSide has a good point about casual ingestion of banned substances - one only has to think of Alain Baxter's DQ at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

    Assuming that you will be receiving a visit from the testers during the next few months, are you being subjected to proper tests?

  • Comment number 11.

    I was at a party once and overheard a friend talking to some chap about "having to let them know where I am" and "If I stay over I'll have to send them a message in case they want to do a drugs test"
    I thought I was at a party with a convict -I had a look for a tag but all I saw were two very well toned ankles...

  • Comment number 12.

    At the outset the system was far less flexible and considerate. As a manager who depends upon a secretary I am sure I would have failed before Christine. I guess it remains a trial for some personalities and not easy for any.

  • Comment number 13.

    Great to see a journalist making an effort to find something out for themselves for a change, rather than relying on relayed information on the wire. Good work Tom.

    Does Andy Murray really put all the info into Adams himself? Surely his mum/PA does it. It may be draconian, but I haven't heard him come out with a better solution. Cheats cheat in training and out of competition, this is the only way to catch them, as far as I can see.

    And surely there must be a place for an Adams App? GPS locator, updates on position, Athlete able to make changes on the go, tester able to locate more precisely where someone might be. If Facebook and Google can track our movements using smartphones for allegedly nefarious purposes, surely it can be used to track athletes for this purpose (whether you deem it nefarious from a human rights point of view or not)? I'm not of the App-designing ilk, but if anyone is, I demand a share of any profits please.

  • Comment number 14.

    Frankly it's a ridiculous system. I regularly compete (Rifle Shooting) with a number of people who are on the system and struggle consistently to ctually be at the designated place/time due to unforseen work commitments. One police officer I know has missed over a dozen slots during the past few years because of being called to incidents towards the end of his shift and then being kept there for hours, luckily the testers never came on those occasions. One manufacturing engineer I know very nearly missed a test because he had to work an extra few hours at the end of his shift rapidly repairing a safety critical system on his site. Neither of those situations really lend itself to thinking about getting online to notify of the situation, not when peoples safety could be at risk. Also in both cases their employes refused point blank to allow them to name any time during work hours as neither would allow the testers on site and neither had a whole hour for lunch to go off-site and wait.

    It is these part-time sportsmen that suffer most from these measures, I know several who could be good enough to challenge for international spots but are simply not wiling to subject themselves to it until they are certain they have a good chance. Full timers can have regular training schedules every day and can also pay someone to help them, amateurs can not and the reality ois that over half of all olympians are amateurs in the UK.

  • Comment number 15.

    I should add that none of them complain about the system itself, merely about the frequency. If it were nominating hours on 2/3 days a week then 99% of people could manage that perfectly fine, but 7 days a week is just impossible to follow for those with irregular work patterns.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    Hi all,

    Great Blog.

    With the amount of time athletes and sports people in general spend twittering etc to tell us what they get up to surely they can adopt this system. I agree with BennyBlanco, there must be a way of incorporating a Google mapping thing or smart phone app to sort this out?

    It does sound quite restrictive for those elite athletes that are not full time. Job, family and life would get in the way a bit.

  • Comment number 18.

    It's frustrating to hear of the likes of Murray and Nadal complaining about the system, I'm sure they'd be the first to complain if it weren't there and someone stormed the tennis scene, beating them regularly and was never caught 'juicing' because there system in place wasn't stringent enough.

    It also worries me that cycling is criticised for catching its drug cheats. Cycling as a sport went through some very dark years, it would be the first to admit - but it is coming out the other side now and doing everything it can to eradicate the cheats. There may be other sports that have similar drugs problems but no-one hears about them because they aren;t so focussed on catching the cheats.

    And good luck in the experiment Tom, hopefully you'll show that even with a full-time job is it possible (by mo means easy but definitely possible) to adhere to the rules. And as others have asked, will you actually be subjected to random testing?

  • Comment number 19.

    This is a truly sinister system. Whatever happened to the basic human right to privacy? I hope and believe that this Big Brother system will collapse the first time that it is challenged in the European Court for Human Rights.

    It is also a profoundly stupid one size fits all system. As Hackerjack points out, the system is completely ludicrous for amateur athletes.

    I frankly would rather compete with cheats or not compete at all than surrender my basic human right to privacy to this odious fig leaf of a system that doesn't work anyway.

    Does anyone seriously believe that the whereabout system will deter those who are determined to cheat?

  • Comment number 20.

    Still hard to fathom how Ohuruogo was given an MBE, unless it was for Most Bizarre Excuse.

  • Comment number 21.

    I don't see an issue with having to specify a one hour period for every day, the problem I have with the system is that the technology being used to support it sounds incredibly outdated. Surely given the nature of a sportspersons job, the system should be able to accomodate the use of smart phone or tablet apps that can call out your location to testers and lessen the administrative pain.

  • Comment number 22.

    Nice comment, Max Merit. "The track where I train was occupied when I arrived, so I left and went to another track." If that's the most bizarre "excuse" you've ever heard, you've led a very sheltered life. Especially since it was demonstrably true.

    Darn, I'm letting you Ohuruogu haters lead me off-topic...

    Back on topic, I think Tom is very brave to take this on. It does seem incredibly intrusive and demanding: as others have mentioned, fine for a full-time athlete, but not for a working person or student (like Christine Ohuruogu...). My hope is that as they realise that the system isn't that easy to live with, it will calm some of the less hysterical Ohuruogu doubters (if there are any out there: the evidence for their existence is scant). Some might even remember how new the system was when she fell foul of it, but that's too optimistic even for someone foolish enough to believe that some athletes may accidentally fall foul of the technical doping rules without actually doping.

  • Comment number 23.

    And while we're at it, why don't you haters go after Rio Ferdinand, who departed the training ground after being told he had a test?! Don't you find those circumstances slightly more suspicious than an unexpected school sports day?

  • Comment number 24.

    looking ahead a bit, say you did actually test positive for something tom then what potential ramifications would this have for sport in general. When shane warne says "oh yeah my mum gave it to me" we all just think liar, but i reckon if you tested positive then the system could be fallible. If possible, and i know it may be tough on top of what you are already doing, try and take/eat/drink some of these things that athletes have claimed make you test positive and see where it ends up

  • Comment number 25.

    If you recall Tim, it was 3 missed tests, that Christine was given an Olympic lifetime ban for, that was upheld on appeal by the Court of Arbitration. It was only overturned by the British Olympic Association, much to the dismay by many in the International athletics community.

  • Comment number 26.

    If you recall Tim, it was 3 missed tests, that Christine was given an Olympic lifetime ban for, that was upheld on appeal by the Court of Arbitration. It was only overturned by the British Olympic Association, much to the dismay by many in the International athletics community.

    That's an odd thing to say when if she was from almost anywhere else in the world she wouldn't have been banned from the Olympics.

  • Comment number 27.

    It's not so much the ban being overturned (which was ridiculous) that gripes, but that she said (allgedly, as reported in the press) that she would switch allegiance to another country (from memory, Nigeria) and race for them at the Olympics if she was banned by the BOA. That stank then and still stinks now.

  • Comment number 28.

    On an altogether more serious does this compare in severity to Dirs' Mission Impossible.

  • Comment number 29.

    I think this system is a step in the right direction. In its infancy it resulted in many missed tests as athletes were not where they said they would be.

    My only gripe is that this system isn't universally adopted by every nation in europe , let alone the world. If we want fairer competitions we need iniversal application of programmes like this.

    Tiffani offili porters confusion lies in the fact that for years she has been used to the lax american sysytem.

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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