July 21, 2015
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WADA President Op-Ed: “Whereabouts system is backed by athletes worldwide”

Whereabouts: an important initiative allowing clean sport to prosper

As the spirit of clean sport thrives and many in the sporting community fight the good fight against doping, we can see the ambassadorial role the athlete has as paramount to this most global of issues. One of WADA’s priorities is to provide athletes of the world with better tools to protect the integrity of their sport, allowing them and their fellow athletes to compete on a level playing field. Given all the talk that there has been lately in the media of missed tests and WADA’s Whereabouts requirements, we felt the time was right to shine a light on the importance of Whereabouts and the Agency’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) ¾ a secure web-based system that, in particular, stores laboratory results, Therapeutic-Use Exemptions and information on Anti-Doping Rule Violations.  WADA continues to improve ADAMS for everyone’s benefit in anti-doping, and it will be given a major facelift in 2016.

“ADAMS is a system that continually improves for everyone’s benefit”

WADA introduced Whereabouts in 2004, which requires athletes to provide their Anti-Doping Organisation with details of where they can be found for one hour every day (between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m.). With this, they can be reached for testing during out-of-competition periods at their home, in their hotel room or even at their training location. Anti-doping Organisations are then able to detect the doping patterns of those who want to rob the majority of athletes – the clean athletes – of their glory. “Under the 2003 Code, each country or sport had different rules: some organisations said three missed tests in 18 months would constitute a violation; some said three missed tests in five years would; although, the period of ineligibility for breaching the rules ranged from three months to two years. WADA has since strengthened the requirement – the 2015 Code brought in a standard two-year sanction and ‘three strike in 12-months rule’ - and, as with all anti-doping rules, this has brought more consistency and fairness to the table where previously there was disparity.”

  “Since 2004, WADA has continually strengthened Whereabouts, and brought more consistency and fairness to the table where previously there was disparity”

With Whereabouts, it is predominantly a selection of elite athletes - in what we call a ‘Registered Testing Pool’ – that is required to enter their Whereabouts data into ADAMS. In doing so, these athletes help simplify the work of the anti-doping community. Knowing where athletes can be found for testing – and testing in a surprised manner - is absolutely crucial to ensuring that effective anti-doping programs prosper. It is this element of surprise that maximises the potential for catching the cheats.

“It is the element of surprise [in Whereabouts] that maximises the potential for doping athletes to be caught.”

By providing Whereabouts, an athlete provides proof that he or she is clean. Whereabouts information enables Anti-Doping Organizations to locate athletes with no advance notice, which is vital to catching athletes who choose to cheat themselves, their sport and those that love sport and all that it stands for.

A fair and improved system fit for 2015

There were significant changes brought about through the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code; such as:  tougher periods of ineligibility, high quality testing, athlete entourage rules and a greater emphasis on investigations.  We also saw a real improvement to the Whereabouts rule which acknowledges that some athletes, far from being intentional cheats, may simply have been careless in completing their Whereabouts requirements. Under the previous Code, when an athlete missed three tests (or had three filing failures) in 18 months, it was a violation. Under the new Code, three strikes in 12 months constitute a violation. This change shows that the system is both proportionate and fair, and delivers for the athlete.

“Whereabouts - in bringing the period of time for the “three strike” rule down from 18 months to 12 - acknowledges that some athletes, far from being intentional cheats, may simply have been careless”

Backed by athletes worldwide

Some athletes – though I am pleased to say not most - have criticized Whereabouts, believing it to be invasive and cumbersome; however, most of us in sport see it as a necessary and efficient way to make sure that clean sport prevails. Having the backing of athletes worldwide should be a barometer for the success of any anti-doping rules, and Whereabouts is no different. We have received a vast array of testimonials from athletes of all levels, from all sports and all countries, who see the far-reaching benefits of having this requirement in place. Many have agreed that completing Whereabouts is not a big sacrifice to make for the sake of proving that they, and their sport, are clean. I recall a Roger Federer interview in 2009 when he said:

"It's a tough system, no doubt. It's a significant change to what we were used to before, so I think it takes some getting used to it… I feel like this is how you're going to catch them, right? You're not going to catch them ringing them up and saying, 'Look, I would like to test you maybe in two days.' The guy's cheating and they're smart, right? It's an hour a day. I know it's a pain, but I would like it to be a clean sport, and that's why I'm OK with it.”

“Many athletes have agreed that the task of completing Whereabouts is not a big sacrifice to make for the sake of proving they, and their sport, are clean”

An easier task for athletes than ever before

Today, it could not be any easier for athletes to update their Whereabouts information. ADAMS allows them to do so online, by text message, by smartphone app (iPhone or Android) or by good “old fashioned” telephone.  There’s really no excuse.

Whilst the Whereabouts app alone reaches more than 25,000 athletes worldwide, there are over 50,000 athletes (a number which is fast growing) that currently use the ADAMS platform. Both the website and the smartphone app are regularly updated, with more and more user-friendly features. This has helped provide a huge push towards greater use of ADAMS and, with WADA set to launch a new and improved system in 2016, I would encourage other athletes, who are not yet maximizing the platform, to do so.

With this, they can continue to demonstrate their clean sport credentials.