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Anti-doping fight being weakened by Wada's critics

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Gordon Farquhar | 20:40 UK time, Thursday, 12 May 2011

The European Elite Athletes Association research into the efficacy of the World Anti-Doping Agency's code raises a number of important questions.

It's a meaty piece of work, looking at how the various national anti-doping agencies across Europe comply with Wada's requirements. Compliance is patchy, to say the least.

Of the 49 organisations it looked at, based on 2009 figures, only 20 actually published annual reports. There are large holes in the data they're required to provide to Wada, thus making it difficult, they argue, to measure how effective anti-doping policy is.

It also came up with the interesting statistic that it takes 600 out-of-competition tests to find a positive, but only 62 in competition. This, they say, adds weight to their argument that out-of-competition testing is inefficient, and therefore should be brought into question.

Of course, they beat the drum for those among their 25,000 members across 15 European countries who resent the whereabouts system that obliges them to tell the drug testers where they are for an hour a day, seven days a week, so they can present themselves for random testing.

In fact, the EEAA's lawyers say they have "hundreds" of athletes ready to say their human rights have been infringed by this invidious imposition on their privacy.

They disclosed there is a rugby player ready to take the same plunge Jean Marc Bosman took and fight for his rights through the European legislative system, however long it takes.

As David Howman, secretary general of Wada notes, it's one thing to say you'll do it, another thing to actually do it, and another thing altogether to actually succeed.

lab595.jpgWada's battle against doping is under-resourced. Photo: Getty

That's not to say Wada dismisses the oncerns of the EEAA. Indeed, it acknowledges the criticism of their enforcement of reporting standards hits the mark.

All those global signatories to the code are supposed to file reports, including data of tests carried out, positives found, actions taken, sports tested and so on. But they don't, and that reflects the reality that often enforcing doping policy is an issue of resources: some can afford to, others struggle, although it's heard to see how European countries can make that excuse, crisis or no crisis in the Euro zone.

I've written before of the challenge facing Wada of pulling rabbits out of hats on a budget of $25m a year, or roughly David Beckham's annual income. It's simply not enough.

There are those hardened cynics who take the view Wada is funded to fail, because the truth would be too unpalatable. Let's hope not, or I really am going to take up market gardening.

There is a serious point to be made however about the threat of endless legal challenges draining the energy and resources out of Wada when they should be channelled solely at the primary objective of delivering drug-free sport.

That's what the EEAA says it wants, too. The trouble is, while everyone indulges themselves in fighting their own corner, seeking tweaks here and concessions there, the cheats are continuing to prosper.

Let's also not forget athletes aren't the only ones with rights. You and I, the paying, viewing public have a right to expect honest competition, untainted by chemically-enhanced cheats. Again, it bears repeating, the moment we stop believing and walk away, the house of cards falls down.

Athletes at that point might find the imposition of a knock on the door at an inconvenient moment more palatable than a return to enforced amateurism.


  • Comment number 1.

    If they are innocent they should have nothing to hide nor fear.

  • Comment number 2.

    As usual you can take what you want from the statistics. You could argue that out-of-competition testing is efficiently preventing drugs abuse, hence the low positive rate.

  • Comment number 3.

    There seems to be too many examples these days of subtances which have been ingested through a diet regime given to athletes by their nutritionists or from cold and flu remedies.

    What are those random blue drinks athletes appear to drink often?

  • Comment number 4.

    There is a relatively simple solution to the funding problem, make every team playing in a sport pay 0.1%, 1%, 5% (whatever amount is agreed upon) of what they would spend on player salaries to WADA. With this done they receive a tick saying that they can officially label themselves as a drug free team in their sport (obviously with regular in and out of season testing, the extra money should allow this). Then with this implemented, only those teams which have been declared drug free are allowed into the various sporting leagues.

    Problem solved, WADA gets its funding, the public gets a guarantee that they are watching healthy (non-drug fueled) competition, and the cost to the teams is negligible...

    But this idea will never take off because the teams would never agree to spend money cleaning up their various sports, and the players would never take a paycut (even .1%'s worth) in order to guarantee fair competition... Greed rules the day and WADA will continue to struggle...

  • Comment number 5.

    I think the most effective solution would simply be to up the stakes for the national federations involved. If an athlete is found guilty of drug use, then the entire nation's athletes should be banned from competition for (let's say for arguments sake) 6 months, and the individual banned for longer.

    While admittedly this may seem drastic, it would ensure that drugs testing and proper policing is taken seriously by each nation, and take a lot of the pressure off WADA. As it is, nations stand to lose relatively little if one drugs cheat is found out, but they've still got another 20 athletes who haven't been found out yet.

  • Comment number 6.

    Totally agree with "thegoodsshtuff's" observations. If federations were held to account and if they had to comply or not compete then it would make clean sport much more likely . I know of instances where federations have been actively involved in covering up for cheats so that they would glory in their athletes/sportspeople sucess.

  • Comment number 7.

    Athletes will always dope, unless there is 100% testing which is 100% effective, because athletes come largely from a sector of the population who naturally accept risks and enjoy taking risks, that's why they can do what they do, and it's why so many of them end up in problems when they can't do it anymore, especially at a young age.

  • Comment number 8.

    WADA has an honourable objective, but habitually reverts to less than honourable tactics - notably hanging athletes out to dry for minor, accidental infractions of the rules. I had not previously considered that this is because they are striving to punch above their financial weight. The rule of strict liability would not be necessary if it were possible to test on such a continuous basis that it was possible to identify these minor infractions as such, rather than being lumped in with long-term, cynical cheats of this world as currently.

    If I listed athletes who have unintentionally fallen foul of the system, it would scarcely be shorter than the list of deliberate cheats who have been caught. Granted, some of these may be deliberate cheats with a good excuse, but unless clean athletes are also infallible, I find it unlikely.

    We may already be in a situation where clean athletes are more likely to be "caught" than the cheats, simply because they believe they have nothing to fear, while the cheat knows he must cover his tracks.

    A depressing situation, all the more so because I can't see how it will ever change.

  • Comment number 9.

    I like the idea of punishing the federation if an athlete is caught. Unfortunately, I can't see a way of punishing a federation, only punishing more athletes who have probably done nothing wrong.

  • Comment number 10.

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

  • Comment number 11.

    1. Having to disclose ones whereabouts for 1hr a day will engage Art. 8 of the ECHR without a doubt. However Art.8 provides a right to a private a family life subject to derogations necessary in a democratic society (one of which is the protection of public morals). These derogations can be employed as qualifications to the right provided the measure is proportionate which 1 hr a day almost certainly is.

    2. In order to bring a human rights claim it must be brought against a public authority of which anti-doping agencies are arguably not (although I don't the details of how these are funded and how much state control there is so it's hard to say for sure). If they aren't classified by law as a public authority then, in the absence of another claim founded in law (which there isn't here) they can't bring a claim.

    3. The EEAA's lawyers can make as many accusations and statements about human rights as they like it doesn't mean they have any legal merit and it would likely be a brave judge which argues having to disclose ones location for an hour a day for your career is illegal under the HRA/ECHR especially as this information is not even shared with the general public merely one confidential body and its officials.

  • Comment number 12.

    Nobody questions the need for out of competition testing, but pretty much everyon questions the need for daily updates.

    Fair enough perhaps if an athlete is a full time professional with a consistent training pattern, they can usually comply quite readily but for those of us who earn nothing from their sport and have to balance training with full time jobs and family commitments it is often extremely difficult to guarentee that kind of schedule on a daily basis.

    I am not at that level where it matters but regularly compete with those who are and struggle to comply. They could easily state their location for 2 or 3 evenings a week (training etc.) 99% of the year but would struggle to know more than a few days ahead of time where they might be the other evenings. Several have even had to resort to stating their hour to be during work time, which thankfully their employers have been kind enough to approve, many others would not have this option.

    You have to remember that the WADA code does not just cover well funded athletes that you see regularly on TV but also the likes of our commonwealth games shooting medalists, our archers, our synchronised swimmers and many others who do not have the funds to guarentee training each and every day. A missed appointment due to a crisis at work forcing someone to stay late counts exactly the same as just not bothering to turn up.

    A far fairer system would require naming a time/place twice a week, 99% of all tests would have the same results without infringing too badly on the lives of our athletes.

  • Comment number 13.

    The majority of athletes I've worked with are using or have used some form of 'chemical' enhancement. This should hardly be surprising when you have the absolute upper levels of human performance and the glory of federations and nations at stake. The ability to bypass tests in some countries is huge. The ability to obtain designer compounds is simple enough for the man on the street, let alone an athlete with an advisor having some knowledge of drug chemistry. The entire argument becomes quite strange however - if a majority of athletes are 'cheating' then surely the competition is fair again? Is being born with an unnaturally high propensity towards testosterone production cheating? How about the genetics that affect our bodies ability to break down caffeine and other stimulants? This means some individuals can benefit from certain foodstuffs more than others? What about richer countries offering athletes better coaching?

    Any argument about the state of WADA needs to take into account it's massive underfunding as stated in the article. Having watched with interest the sheer number of EPO variants that were produced in China the moment a test was developed and released for the original, it was finally clear that WADA is simply a lone drug cop facing a massive industry set up to enhance athletes and defeat it.

    Anti-Doping is a major discussion that is forever swept to the margins. Much like corruption and betting scandals in cricket and football leagues. We'd like to believe it's a few rotten apples but people will always seek to win an advantage, whether it's for glory or money.

  • Comment number 14.

    It's all very well saying 'punish the federations', but most of these athletes earn their money on the open circuit, where they are running for themselves and not for the Federations. Why should an also-ran athlete who dopes himself up to win a bit of money at minor events result in all the clean athletes being banned?

    Let's face it, there is no answer to this problem. The chemists will always be ahead of the testers, and while money and national pride is involved there will always be motivation for athletes to dope and countries to turn a blind eye or even promote it themselves.


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