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Inside the new anti-doping system

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Tom Fordyce | 10:46 UK time, Thursday, 22 March 2012

Every Olympic athlete representing Great Britain this summer is using it, it's the cornerstone to every sport's fight against drug cheats, and it's just changed significantly.

This is Adams (the Anti-Doping Administration and Management System), the online program that athletes use to tell the testers where they will be for an hour a day, seven days a week, and where they'll train at all times.

When I signed up to the National Registered Testing Pool last summer, in order to experience first-hand what our sporting heroes go through, I found the old version of Adams clunky, slow and impossible to access from your phone. You got the hang of it with time, but it was far from simple.

With the new system freshly in place ahead of the London Olympics, I decided to test it out myself.

The old Adams looked a little like a very old version of Microsoft Outlook. The new one looks like an up-to-date one - easier on the eye, easier to use and harder to make accidental errors on - which, considering that three missed tests can lead to a ban from all Olympic competition, is about as grave an administrative error as any athlete could ever make.

Eighteen months in development from Wada (the World Anti-Doping Agency), it has one instant advantage over the version it replaces: any date or action that needs your attention shows up red. Any detail you've successfully updated comes up green.

It might not sound like much. But when you're inputting three months of detailed information at a time - addresses of your home, your partner, your parents, any hotel you might stay in, training centres, race venues, physio appointments - every tiny piece of assistance is welcome.

This time, there is also an in-built user guide. Before if you wanted to make a last-minute tweak to your hour to reflect a change to your training time, you had to phone UK Anti-Doping or your sport's own experts. Now you should be able to do it yourself, wherever you are in the world.

One of the biggest complaints from athletes was the issue of specifying where you would be for that hour while on the move. Those flying to competitions, for example, often had to input the airline, flight number and seat number, and add in somewhat caustic comments like 'OVER THE ATLANTIC'.

The new system fixes that. Now you can input a day as 'TRAVEL', and a blue 'AIR' signifier with an airplane icon will appear on that date in your Adams calendar. If the flight is delayed, you can text an update in from the departures or arrivals lounge.

How well is it working?

Speaking to anti-doping officers at various Olympic sports, a number of recurring themes emerged. While almost all prefer the new system, there remain a number of key concerns.

If an athlete enters a new overnight residence into a date on the in-built calendar, for example, the programme takes that to mean they will be there that morning, rather than that night and following morning - an illogical oversight that could lead to a missed test.
There is still no smartphone app. Although Wada promise one is being developed, it certainly won't be ready for this summer's Olympics.

While you can access Adams through the browser on an iPhone, it won't work at all for BlackBerry users. Should you update your whereabouts with a text message - as many athletes regularly do - you still don't require a password, meaning that anyone with access to your phone, could alter your personal information. And any update you do text in will reach UK Anti-Doping but won't appear in your own online diary.

Neither is it quite as universal as Wada would like.

One of the many interesting nuggets to come out of the Tackling Doping in Sport conference in London last week was that Qatar's national anti-doping body has decided not to implement ADAMS because of trenchant athlete opposition to home testing.
So how are British athletes finding it?

The early signs have pleased UKAD. From 400-odd sportsmen and women in the testing pool, there were less than a handful of missed submissions in the first quarter.
"It is so much better than the old one," says Jeanette Kwakye, British 100m champion and Olympic finalist in Beijing.

"There were times with the previous version when I would be typing in my whereabouts info at one in the morning. I couldn't get my head round it.

"There are still one or two little things that aren't perfect, but now it's a couple of clicks and you're done.

"The next thing I'm desperate for is the app. Everyone is on smartphones. I can understand the security issues, but we travel so much - changing venues, changing training times - that it's so important to be able to update on the move.

"But I'm a massive fan of testing. It protects the sport I love. This system isn't convenient, but everyone in office jobs has paperwork, so us athletes shouldn't be any different. We go really hard to make it work for us."

And what of the whereabouts system itself, famously dubbed "draconian" by Andy Murray? At the same conference in London, I shared a platform with Ian Smith, legal director of the Professional Cricketers' Association, during a discussion about the ethics and legality behind it all.

"What we need to know is whether no-notice out-of-competition testing is even effective," said Smith.

"This is where there is a gigantic hole. It is definitely perceived wisdom that, if someone will cheat, they will do it at home. I'm not saying that is not the case, but we have no evidence because the reporting provided to WADA is simply not happening. The lack of statistical evidence is alarming.

"The whole system is weighed in favour of the police and against the athlete. Who does this system exist for?

"Why is it for the athlete to prove that there isn't one (intention to cheat)? A man can commit the most heinous crime in front of the world, on television, and he still gets a fair shot at trying to prove he is not guilty. The same does not apply to athletes just trying to make their living."


  • Comment number 1.

    Great blog! I never fully understood the whereabouts system but it's now possible to see just how easy a missed test is. As someone not particularly brilliant at keeping a diary I can only imagine the sort of trouble I would end up in trying to use it!

    Let's hope that WADA sort out the app soon, sport is now globalised and although people don't always have access to a computer, most will have access to a smart phone. Less excuses mean less missed tests and a cleaner sport.

  • Comment number 2.

    I think that while the system does appear to be a massive burden and inconvenience, it remains at the moment the most effective way to prevent doping in sport. I know I would hate to have to update my whereabouts and personal situation on a perpetual basis, but I guess if the outcome of failing to do so is to be banished from competing then for an athlete, it's a worthwhile, if not often futile action. I have to agree with Ian Smith though and point to the morality debate over 'innocent until proven guilty' and not the other way round as this appears.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think I’d be more embarrassed to wear the new Olympic kit, than being caught as a drug cheat!

  • Comment number 4.

    The best way to combat drugs cheats is for ALL sports to adopt the biological passport that cycling uses. Cycling gets a lot of bad publicity due to the use of PED's but does the most to fight against drug mis-use and it's a system that needs to be adopted across the board. Also, the ban system needs to be entirely consistent across all sports (including American NBA and NFL) so that there are no anomolies.

  • Comment number 5.

    Interesting to read but it wont change anything. The three strikes or missed tests (in 18 months) rule means that a cheating athlete can miss two tests before having to take keeping the timetable seriously.

    Because the tests are random that could take nearly the 18 months to be caught, whereby the three strikes are re-instated for the next 18 months.

    The drug tests will never stop athletes taking them, but it does moderate how much they could take, which is as good as it gets really.

    Finally, pharmaceutical companies are known to approach young athletes with derivatives of banned drugs that are not on the list and get them to take them until they are discovered and added to the list.

    This isn't even cheating, technically, but you see how complex the issue can be to control. Many banned drugs are naturally derived so the differences between them and normal over the counter substances can be minor. Note the change in attitude to caffeine for example.

    We should be appreciating athletics for what it is. Watching people pushing the physical limits of being human. That is as amazing as it gets.

  • Comment number 6.

    Tom. Quality piece - someone actually taking the time to get the true perspective of using the system.

    Unlike another comment above, I believe ADAMS really does add value and changes things - because it's not just about the number of tests an athlete could choose to miss, but the frequency of testing too that is important - hence targetted testing of athletes over a continuous number of days in some cases.

    I would say that there are still some issues though - and the Offredo case highlights one of these - ie when one of his missed tests related to a day where his ADAMS entry did not correspond to where he was, even though he was actually at a UCI sanctioned race and therefore available for testing!

  • Comment number 7.

    Thanks for this Tom, I remember your piece on the original ADAMS system which I found fascinating. Glad the system has got easier to use but there are still massive areas for improvement. I don't understand why it can be so hard to create a password based system with real time interfacing between athletes and the testers. The other point is that in all honesty I don't like the fact that you have to be somewhere everyday. At the end of the day it is a job and sometimes you need to be able to switch off. Even if it is one day per week where you can leave blank without the fear of a knock on the door - I'm sure that would make a difference.

  • Comment number 8.

    It doesn't matter how much we do to catch the cheats if they don't get a proper punishment when they're caught and quite frankly, in this respect WADA are a joke, sport will never be 'clean' when cheats are allowed to prosper.

    We should still refuse visas for ALL athletes who've failed drugs tests, regardless of what anyone else says and no matter how loudly they whinge about it, it's far too late to move the Olympics anywhere else and would any nation really forego the chance to compete just to stick up for a few of their CHEATS.

  • Comment number 9.

    Better not tell Rio Ferdinand!!

  • Comment number 10.

    The last paragraph makes an excellent point, but it is countered by the fact that so many people cheated before any real testing system was implemented, and SOMETHING had to be done. Whether this kind of draconian measure is that something is uncertain, but it is still a positive step in removing the ability to cheat from athletes.

    What I would say is that WADA should be looking to learn from those caught cheating in the past, see if they can build up a pattern of behaviour that tells them when most people are likely to use performance-enhancers - like Dwain Chambers said, the optimum period for using certain drugs is around three months before an event in the intense training period.

    We know that athletes have a possible wide range of performance enhancers available to them, and so testing should be properly targeted to coincide with their likely window of use. Athletes know the specifics of the steroids - their half-life, the maximum dose and cycles required to avoid attention. WADA needs to use this information and target testing around those cycles whilst maintaining a reasonable out-of-competition testing schedule as well. So three months before an event, athletes taking part in that event can be more heavily targeted, and ADAMS will come into its own at that point.

    I do agree that the system is topsy-turvy, almost presuming guilt over innocence, but until sport is able to declare itself largely drug-free, this has to be the way testing is administered. Short of mandatory testing of every athlete, which is prohibitively expensive, anyway.


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