16 July 2021

WADA statement on German broadcaster ARD documentary

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) notes the contents of the 16 July 2021 documentary by German broadcaster, ARD, which makes a number of statements regarding the possibility of prohibited substances being passed through the skin of athletes via a process of sabotage.

WADA acknowledges that some athletes may be concerned when viewing this documentary. However, this possibility is well known within the anti-doping community. It is considered to be a very rare occurrence based on the small number of such cases that have arisen historically, and its potential is scientifically limited to a very small number of prohibited substances that could be absorbed through the skin into someone’s system (for example, the anabolic steroid, clostebol).

WADA has not seen the details of the experiment carried out for the purposes of making the documentary, including which substances were used or the levels detected. The Agency is in contact with the documentary makers and will ask them to share any relevant evidence. In addition, WADA looks forward to publication of a peer-reviewed paper in a scientific journal, as announced by the experiment’s authors in the documentary, so that the results can be properly analyzed. With this information, WADA will be able to assess whether any new data has been brought to light. WADA continually adapts its methods and processes as scientific evidence is revealed, including by the adjustment of decision limits for some substances, as demonstrated by the Agency’s recent measures taken in relation to potential contamination cases connected to meat and diuretics.

It is important to note that manipulation of athletes’ samples as highlighted in the documentary is a criminal act. WADA was given the authority to conduct investigations under the version of the World Anti-Doping Code that came into effect on 1 January 2015. Since then, the Agency, along with other Anti-Doping Organizations, has collaborated with law enforcement agencies around the world to ensure those who perpetrate crimes related to doping are brought to justice.

The documentary also highlights the important principle of strict liability within the anti-doping system, which states that an athlete is responsible for the substances found in their body following analysis of their sample (a stage at which the athlete has the opportunity to request confirmation of the results of their first sample via analysis of a second sample). The strict liability principle set forth in the World Anti-Doping Code (Code) is well accepted and has been consistently upheld in the decisions of courts and anti-doping tribunals, including the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the Swiss Federal Tribunal. The Code has also been drafted giving consideration to the principles of proportionality and human rights.

Just because an athlete returns a positive test does not mean they are guilty of an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV) or that they will receive a suspension. Anti-Doping Organizations must be able to show that an ADRV has taken place. Within the principle of strict liability in anti-doping, which is devised to ensure fairness for all athletes, there is flexibility for an athlete who can demonstrate that they were not at fault during the various stages of the process, including on first instance and appeal. In the rare cases where an athlete may have been sabotaged by whatever means, a mechanism exists within the results management stage of the process that allows them to provide contextual explanations of the suspected origin of the case. This point is clearly demonstrated within the documentary itself as in nearly all the cases of alleged sabotage or contamination highlighted, the athletes were exonerated.

Athletes can continue to be confident that the system designed to protect them, which has been built and has evolved through input from all anti-doping stakeholders worldwide, will continue to include multiple safeguards and will be further adjusted as science advances.