29 April 2015

WADA President: “WADA’s clean sport charge is instilling greater confidence in athletes and the public at-large”

By Sir Craig Reedie, WADA President

Last month, the global anti-doping community congregated in Lausanne, Switzerland – a city seen by many as the epicentre of the sporting world – for the largest annual gathering of clean sport representatives: the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA’s) Anti-Doping Organization Symposium.

It is no coincidence that the 2015 Symposium saw record numbers through the gates, as, with the updated and improved World Anti-Doping Code now in action right across the world, there is a real impetus with which the anti-doping community is working; there is a real feeling that we have the wind in our sails as we advance and adapt to the ever-changing world of sport.

I would like to remind those reading this column of just what the sporting community and governments agreed to through the revised World Anti-Doping Code at the World Conference on Doping in Sport in Johannesburg 18 months ago. Longer periods of ineligibility for what we might term real cheats, as called for by the whole community, including, vitally, the athlete community. These ‘stronger sanctions’ are balanced with a greater degree of flexibility by allowing a shorter sanction if the athlete can prove that he or she was not cheating (as could be the case with a contaminated supplement, for example).

Information Sharing and Intelligence: let’s not forget that an athlete does not have to be proven to be a cheat simply by a positive drugs test. Evidence-based, ‘non-analytical’ rule violations are also possible; in fact many of the highest profile doping cases over the years have proved to be non-analytical. The key is that the organization responsible for a particular case must put the evidence together in a compelling way. Anti-doping organizations now have greater investigations-based responsibilities, as do governments whom it is expected will put in place measures to allow greater information sharing with anti-doping organizations.

“The onus is on athletes to distance themselves from rogue entourage members”

The Code now also provides better rules to cover the athlete entourage, who, we have learnt in recent years, can have a huge influence on an athlete’s decision making. Rogue doctors, agents, physicians and coaches exist in all countries – particularly as the financial incentives to achieve in sport become ever-greater – and so it is only right that the anti-doping community agreed to reflect this growing concern with new rules such as the one termed “Prohibited Association”, which makes it a rule violation for an athlete to be professionally associated with an individual who is currently ineligible, or would have been ineligible in the last six years had they been under the jurisdiction of anti-doping rules at that time. The onus is on the athlete to distance themselves from such individuals.

“The right athletes need to be tested for the right substances at the right time”

Organizations are now testing in a much more intelligent fashion than we had seen previously. Up until this year, there was concern that some sports were simply not testing for the full menu of banned substances that they should have been; giving cheats the opportunity to get off scot-free. That has all changed, as organizations are planning their test distribution in a more intelligent fashion by testing athletes for those substances deemed most “high risk” in their particular sport. The right athletes need to be tested for the right substances at the right time, which should give clean athletes greater confidence in the system.

“The priority is to educate future generations – the athletes of tomorrow – so that they realize early on that doping is fundamentally wrong”

The new set of rules specifically highlights education. We all talk about the importance of educating athletes, entourage members and others about the dangers of doping; ensuring that the clean athletes – the majority – understand the rules and know what they can and cannot put into their bodies. However, we all realize that eradicating doping entirely amongst those currently competing is a tall order. Changing the culture of cheating amongst the current generation of elite athletes is not something that will happen overnight, but what is a priority is directing our message at the future generations – the athletes of tomorrow – so that they realize early on that doping is fundamentally wrong. That is why the Code now expressly highlights the distinction between information and education, and stresses the importance of preventing doping in the future. We are taking real strides in this area, with the likes of the Athlete Learning Program about Health and Anti-Doping (ALPHA) and the University Project now being used by many.

 “For those athletes that view anti-doping as burdensome, rest assured that WADA is fighting to protect the clean athletes of the world”

All of these fundamental changes take into account the full applications of proportionality and human rights – the importance of this is expressly mentioned in the Code. In fact, it is worth reminding those athletes that might view anti-doping procedures as burdensome or even intrusive: WADA is there to protect the clean athletes. We are not fighting against sport; rather we are fighting to protect the clean athletes of the world, for it is they that need protecting from the wrongs of doping. And for all these significant advances in the rules, WADA has begun – and will continue – to work alongside signatories to ensure their rules are in line with the Code, and that the practice of those rules is as effective as possible. For those signatories that are not in step with the changes, we have a robust new compliance process in place, with an expert group at its heart, to ensure that any compliance-related decisions or recommendations are made independently and with the confidence of the anti-doping community. 

“The Athlete Biological Passport allows athletes to hold up their hands and prove they are clean”

The Athlete Biological Passport – or ABP as it is known in anti-doping parlance –is an increasingly popular tool among those that test athletes. The ABP – which looks for the signs of doping in an athlete’s blood or urine sample rather than for the doping substance itself – points to a more intelligent anti-doping direction in which the trends of doping behavior can be identified over time.

Crucially, the ABP can allow athletes to hold up their hands and prove they are clean. Over 35 anti-doping organizations are now using the blood (haematological) module of the ABP as part of their anti-doping programs – including the sports of cycling, tennis and football - while the urine (steroidal) module is available to all organizations through their collection of athletes’ urine samples.

“WADA’s ADO Symposium demonstrated the importance of athletes ‘speaking up’ on the doping issue”

One area in which we have made good progress is the last 18 months is promoting the athlete voice. Greater priority is being given to this voice than ever before, as those of us in the sport movement and in governments realize the importance of proceeding with anti-doping rules that have the full backing of those they aim to protect: the athletes. One only has to be reminded of the WADA Athlete Committee’s prominence at the recent ADO Symposium to understand how important their point of view is. An entire Symposium session dedicated to the influence of the athletes, entourage and the media goes to show that these groups – outside the conventional rule-makers– are seen as central to clean sport thinking in the future. Those at the Symposium witnessed – through a special interview with Betsy Andreu (spouse of Frankie Andreu who rode with Lance Armstrong) and the WADA Athlete Committee panel session – athletes talking about the importance of “speaking up”. The fear of speaking up on doping behaviour – and on rogue behaviour by athlete entourage members - was an acknowledged problem in sport in the past, but with this issue discussed more openly, we can expect athlete testimonies to become increasingly commonplace. As it approaches its 10th anniversary, the WADA Athlete Committee continues to progress in its work.  A great amount has been achieved in the past decade, and with Beckie Scott as its chair – someone who originally won a bronze medal at Salt Lake City, only to be later elevated to a silver then gold medal due to doping by the first and second place finishers – I expect the Committee to continue to be recognized for its courage and enthusiasm to take on the doping issue.  Through closer ties with other athlete bodies, the WADA Athlete Committee’s work continues to go from strength to strength.

“By partnering with pharmaceutical companies, WADA is alert to substances that have the potential to be abused by athletes”

One of the main strands of this year’s ADO Symposium was partnerships, and as we are all looking to achieve the same aim – clean sport – partnering and sharing resources are effective measures as we look to raise the standards of doping control programs. And it is pleasing to see live examples of these types of partnerships: in Kenya, we have a potential solution to some of the doping problems with the establishment of a Task Force comprising Anti-Doping Norway, the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency and WADA helping develop and guide the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK). Even more recently, WADA signed a three-year cooperation agreement with Anti-Doping Norway and the Turkish Anti-Doping Commission. This collaboration will allow Norway to offer its expertise and, with WADA’s support, help Turkey establish a fully effective national anti-doping program that is in full compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code.

It is not just partnerships with anti-doping organizations that WADA is forming. As we saw in January at the Second International Conference on the Pharmaceutical Industry and the Fight against Doping in Tokyo, partnerships between the anti-doping community and pharmaceutical industry are crucial to the long term strategy for WADA and its partners. The event was considered to be a resounding success, and highlighted the fact that doping is no longer just an issue threatening sport but increasingly threatening the health of society as a whole. WADA has recently partnered with worldwide pharmaceutical organizations such as Pfizer and the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) so that information can be shared effectively to help the pharmaceutical industry minimize the risk of abuse of innovative medicines, and to help WADA develop new strategies to identify substances that could be subject to misuse and abuse by athletes. These partnerships are a win-win for both communities.

“The WADA-IOC Special Anti-Doping Research Fund fund is a big step forward and a sign of how the sport movement and government – the two sides of WADA – can collaborate effectively for the benefit of the clean athlete”

We remain committed to significant science and social science research at WADA, and huge progress has been made since the IOC announced the special Anti-Doping Research Fund in December 2013. Since 2001, WADA has committed more than US$ 60 million to scientific research. For the special Anti-Doping Research Fund, WADA was able to secure the backing of a number of governments and, together with the IOC, the fund is nearing a potential US$ 13 million, which will be spent on carrying out innovative, anti-doping research focused on protecting the clean athlete. This fund is a big step forward, and a sign of how the sport movement and government – the two sides of WADA – can collaborate effectively for the benefit of the clean athlete. With elite sport more lucrative than ever before, athletes are going to greater lengths to find shortcuts to success, including through doping. The lengths the doping athlete will go to, to achieve success keep WADA, and its partners in anti-doping, motivated to prioritize research so we remain at the cusp of the latest trends and innovative detection methods.

Through all its research, and its broader anti-doping work, WADA’s clean sport charge is instilling greater confidence in athletes and the public at-large.