Jack Anderson on the launch of #ChooseTheRightTrack - an anti-doping campaign - Part 1Jack Anderson
In the first part of this two part blog Jack Anderson outlines the objectives of the #ChooseTheRightTrack an anti-doping campaign sponsored by sportswear company, SKINS. In part 2 Jack outlines the seven point plan for change to improve the effectiveness of current anti-doping.
The #ChooseTheRightTrack anti-doping campaign is threefold in nature and calls for:
A truly independent and suitably funded World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA);
An athlete support council established under the direct control of an independent WADA;
A comprehensive truth and reconciliation process premised on building a greater understanding of the past, present and future of anti-doping, and particularly in professional cycling.
The campaign and accompanying world tour has been initiated by Jaimie Fuller, Chairman of the sportswear company SKINS. #ChooseTheRightTrack was launched at an event in London on 28 August 2013.
The main speaker at the launch was Ben Johnson who won the 100 metres gold medal at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 before his disqualification for failing a routine drugs test. Johnson was joined by Jaimie Fuller and three independent panellists (me and two others who actually knew what they were talking about):
Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE
Arguably, Great Britain’s best known paralympian, Tanni is now a board member for Transport for London and is also on the board of the London Legacy Development Corporation.
Former Director of Ethics and Anti-Doping at UK Sport, Michele is now a consultant to clients in sport and business on the adoption and maintenance of best practice procedures relating to ethics and integrity standards.
The format of the launch was a Q/A facilitated by Ian Payne, BBC Radio 5live.
What follows is a summary of my remarks on the night, concluding with a 7-point plan for a revived anti-doping campaign in sport.
There are three key, introductory points that need to be made in any discussion about anti-doping policy in sport.
First, we must admit that the current anti-doping regime in sport is not near as effective as it should be.
Second, we must always keep in mind the reasons why we pursue doping and dopers in sport.
Third, we must ask what can we do practically and quickly to improve the effectiveness of current anti-doping policy.
Current anti-doping policy is ineffective; WADA is not acting near its capacity
In the mid-1980s, and before the establishment of the World-Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at the turn of the century, about 150,000 doping tests were carried out annually. Today, that figure is nearer 250,000. Despite both the increased number of tests and their sophistication (not to mention their cost – Carbon Isotope Ratio testing for the presence of synthetic testosterone costs approximately £250 per test) the detection rate today remains as it was in the mid-1980s – 1%. It appears that only the stupid; only the pharmacologically unsophisticated; only the “dopey-dopers” get caught.
No one surely believes that the true incident of doping in sport is around 1%. Even the much maligned police forces of England and Wales have crime detection rates of about 28-29% and interestingly recent research indicates that that near 1 out of 3 figure may be nearer to the truth on doping in sport.
In 2011, the IAAF and WADA commissioned research to ascertain and estimate of the true incident of doping in sport. A team of researchers interviewed about 2,000 athletes at the 2011 World Athletic Championships in Daegu, Korea and at the 2011 Pan Arab Games in Doha, Qatar. Twenty-nine per cent (29%) of athletes at Daegu and 45% in Doha admitted to doping within the previous 12 months.
There are three things to note about these results, which were recently reported on by the New York Times. First, the research suggests that doping can no longer be dismissed summarily as being a deviant behaviour within sport. Second, it must be noted that the IAAF and WADA are unhappy with the research, ostensibly on the grounds that the methodology used by the researchers in their questionnaire needs further testing (a matter which the researchers contest vigorously). Third, and notwithstanding the above, there is no doubt that the current anti-doping system led by WADA (with a detection rate of 1%) is operating well below its capacity (and possibly up to 30 times below).
Moreover, and on the last point, this is not simply me saying this; WADA itself knows this to be the case, as spelled out clearly to its Executive Committee Report in the recent Pound Report on the lack of effectiveness of testing programmes.
Why pursue the dopers?
Why bother pursuing doping, when it appears that the cheaters will always stay ahead of the chasers? Why not let athletes, as autonomous beings making an informed decision about their health and welfare, take whatever performance enhancing substances that they so wish, in whatever quantity they so desire? Why not simply turn WADA into the equivalent of a food and drugs agency (a world sports doping and supplements agency), with a remit to advise athletes as to what performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) are safe or not to consume?
In a recent academic article in the International Journal of Law in Context (studies show that reading the article has a 99.9% probability of curing insomnia) I have tried to address the issue as to whether allowing athletes openly to take medically supervised and controlled levels might be the most pragmatic, effective and even fairest way of addressing the better regulation of doping in sport. The essential problem of such a “controlled” system is that it would eventually coerce all athletes to take some PEDs in order to remain competitive and in any event no matter what line is drawn for athletes – be it strict liability or a medically acceptable limit of PEDs – some will be tempted to breach it to the detriment of their health and safety.
Current anti-doping policy, on the other hand, is premised on three principles: doping as a breach of rules is cheating; its performance enhancing nature is the antithesis of the spirit of sport; and it has associated, detrimental health issues.
The first two points are linked both by a desire to see the best athlete win and not the athlete with the best pharmacist; but also by a recognition that doping equates to corruptive behaviour. Nothing corrodes the credibility and relevance of a sport quite as quickly as the perception of corruption. In corroding public, parental and sponsor-related attitudes, doping can sink a sport’s participation rates and push it to the margins of TV schedules. Most importantly, a doping ethos within a sport can corrupt younger athletes who may determine that the only way to gain entry into the elite level of their sport is to dope – and hence the vicious, abusive circle of doping is perpetuated.
The health issue should not be underestimated. I start my lectures on doping, sport and the law on my sports law course at Queen’s in Belfast by making the students watch the clips of Tommy Simpson swaying from side to side Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France, eventually collapsing and dying on the side of a mountain – amphetamines in his blood stream; amphetamines in his pocket.
This attitude of “dying to win” is not confined sporadically to individual athletes. In Goldman’s infamous “Death in the Locker Room” survey of 1982 in which nearly 200 elite athletes were asked if they would take an undetectable PED that would guarantee them success in their sport but would result in their death within five years. Fifty two per cent (52%) of athletes answered in the affirmative and in a decade long series of biannual surveys thereafter that figure remained consistent with half of the athletes stating that they would accept this “Faustian bargain” – see further Bob Goldman and Ronald Klatz Death in the Locker Room. 2nd ed., Elite Sports Medicine Publications, Chicago, 1992.
It seems that the norms and values of many elite athletes are so perversely competitive in outlook and skewed in their perception of benefits of PED that, if left to their own devices, they would assume the risk of premature death for fleeting sporting success. Elite sport is a peculiarly obsessive and self-absorbed world and many elite athletes tend to have what might be called a “real-time” relationship with their body.
They are primarily concerned with what they can push their body to do now (at its physical peak) rather than thinking about how it might cope in the future. As a result, many elite athletes, who do not have an adequate amount of objective self-awareness to understand the consequence of their actions alone, effectively assign their long term health, and become heavily dependent upon, their support staff – be they personal coaches or physicians or the support supplied by their national sports federation or government.
There are three important points that need to be taken from this.
First, the current policy on anti-doping is determinedly and unapologetically paternalistic in nature. It is, bluntly, in place to protect athletes from themselves.
Second, and beyond the athletes themselves, WADA has a crucial role in ensuring that the “entourage” to whom athletes often assign their health and welfare are also rigorously and regularly monitored to ensure effective compliance with the World Anti Doping Code.
Third, doping is not a “victimless” crime. Clean athletes are not just denied medals and prize winnings but they often push themselves beyond their physical and psychological limits in training in order to remain competitive again those who they suspect are using PEDs. This phenomenon was well encapsulated in the excellent BBC Radio 5 documentary “The Record Fakers” concerning the systematic doping of the East German team and the impact that had on athletes such as GB’s Kathy Cook.
In part 2 Jack outlines the seven point plan for change to improve the effectiveness of current anti-doping.
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About the Author
Jack Anderson is Professor and Director of Sports Law Studies at the University of Melbourne. He has published widely in the area of sports law including The Legality of Boxing (2007),Textbook on Sports Law (2010), Leading Cases in Sports Law (2013) and EU Sports Law (2017). He is a Chartered Arbitrator and, having previously been an arbitrator with the GAA, FAI and Just Sport Ireland, he is currently a mediator/arbitrator for Sports Resolutions UK and the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
He supports Doon, Limerick, Munster, Ireland and Watford FC and, yes, he looks like Paul Scholes.