28th August 2015

INHDR Conference: monitoring & goal assessment needed

Independent monitoring and analysis of anti-doping policy, as well as assessment of its goals is needed, as the current anti-doping system is legally unsustainable and can be challenged on human rights grounds. This was one of the major themes of the first day of ‘Evaluating the Unintended Effects of Anti-Doping’, a two day conference organised by the International Network of Humanistic Doping Research (INHDR) at Aarhus University.

Examples of the unintended consequences of anti-doping were given: Jonathan Breyne’s attempted suicide after testing positive for clenbuterol; Roger Wenzel’s sanction for doping after being given testosterone medicine for Parkinson’s at the age of 64; even the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) out of an International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting designed to create a non-governmental IOC body…

Evidence was also presented that athletes are paying lip service to the line that they support the anti-doping system because they have to support it, whereas they have real issues with the way in which the system operates. Delegates heard the results of surveys conducted by INHDR members in Denmark, France and internationally which showed that elite athletes had real issues with whereabouts, and viewed doping controls as intrusive into their private lives.

The day began with a keynote address from Dr. Paul Dimeo of Stirling University, who raised the interesting question of whether dopers should be considered “morally weak”. He said that the language of Sir Arthur Porritt, the first President of the IOC Medical Commission, was at odds with some athletes that he had spoken to. Parrot referred to doping as “evil and morally wrong”, whereas some athletes that he had spoken to did not take this viewpoint, arguing that doping was necessary to level the playing field; made them feel part of the “dopers club”, and they enjoyed the improvement in performance that resulted from it. “The model of moral disengagement in sport is quite powerful at the moment”, argued Dimeo.

Building on the conference theme, Professor Ivan Waddington of the University of Chester showed how the formation of WADA was an unintentional consequence of the IOC inviting all of its critics to a meeting designed to form an IOC anti-doping body. He argued that the anti-doping system needs to take a look at its policy objectives and whether the system that has been created is actually achieving them. “There has never, ever been a system of independent monitoring and analysis of any anti-doping policy”, he said. “What are WADA’s goals? We don’t know because they have never articulated them. Anti-doping organisations need to clearly articulate what their objectives are. We also need to look at the collateral harms that come out of these policies.”

Rasmus Møller of Aarhus University highlighted the dichotomy of anti-doping rules – some substances protect health, others induce sickness yet they all belong to the same Prohibited List. He pointed out that it can be argued that doping can actually increase equality and fairness in sport by bringing weaker athletes up to the same standard, and that the “glorification” of natural talents – which are often based on genetics – that sport promotes can be considered immoral. “Anti-doping prevents the levelling out of genetic advantages”, he said.

However, he also pointed out that if athlete equality was achieved, athletes would all arrive at the finish at the same time, rendering sport meaningless. “If we level the playing field, we remove the spirit of sport”, he said. “There is an argument that the current system is legally unsustainable and can be challenged on human rights grounds. The assumption of guilt is also legally problematic.”

Olivier de Hon of the Doping Autoriteit in the Netherlands highlighted that although WADA has defined doping in the World Anti-Doping Code in the sense of a legal definition, there are issues with some definitions within the Code. He said that there had been “much discussion” over what constitutes a ‘health risk’ as defined in Article 4.3 of the Code, which specifies what criteria a substance should meet in order to be included on the Prohibited List. “WADA never communicates this”, he said. “Ethical judgement should not be part of sport. The spirit of sport is everywhere. Make performance-enhancement and health risk the only components of whether a substance should be included on the Prohibited List.”

De Hon also argued that although ‘potential’ is also a vague term, it is essential to the operation of efficient anti-doping. “If you remove ‘potential’ from the language of the Code, you will always be behind the dopers, as you will then have to prove the effect of substances in each and every case.”

Professor Letitia Paoli of the University of Leuven highlighted the differences between the supply side of the illegal recreational drugs market, and the performance-enhancing drug (PED) market. She pointed out that despite anti-doping’s assertion that the two are linked, her research had discovered that legitimate professionals are involved with the supply of PEDs, and that financial gain is not the main aim, in contrast to the illegal recreational drug market.

She pointed out that opening up sport to PEDs would not resolve the situation, as many have claimed, because governments and taxpayers would not be prepared to support doped sport. Even creating two separate competitions for ‘doped’ and ‘clean’ sport would not resolve the issue, as athletes in the ‘clean’ market may still try to cheat. “The only way is regulation”, she said. “However, harm reduction is a valuable goal in both fields.”

In a parallel session, Marie Overbuy of Syddansk University presented a survey of elite Danish athletes in 40 sports, which found that 27% of elite athletes think the Prohibited List is fine as it is; 64% think that it is fine but they don’t know what is on it; 8% think that the List should be changed and under 1% think that there should be no List at all. Interestingly, 78.5% agreed that two years is an appropriate length for a ban. An interesting discussion developed on whether anti-doping is seen as a deterrent, especially whether athletes that have been tested have a lower perception of the deterrent effect than those who have not been tested.

In a separate study, Anna Efverström of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences (GIF) found that although 80% of international athletes think that anti-doping is an essential part of fighting doping, 60% don’t think that dopers are caught. One third had issues with whereabouts filings, and 80% wanted the same or stricter levels of doping control.

Barbara Broers of the Swiss Society of Addiction Medicine (SSAM) found in her research involving elite athletes from France, Belgium and Switzerland that they approve of testing and whereabouts, but are critical of the administration of anti-doping. Ninety-four percent agreed that controls are necessary, however 33% thought that controls carried out at home are invasive (39% said that they were not invasive). Fifty-six percent felt that giving a urine sample with a direct witness was invasive and 54% felt that whereabouts took too long.

Interestingly, 57% thought that whereabouts requirements are unequally implemented between countries – sometimes even within countries in the case of Belgium, which has more than one anti-doping authority. A massive 57% felt that there was a lack of information within the anti-doping system and 81% thought that management of the system varies from country to country. Forty-nine percent thought that other athletes were using therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) without medical justification.

The final session of the day, run in parallel with another session, Jörg Krieger of the German Sports University in Köln discussed the activities of the IOC Medical Commission until it was abolished in 1988, discussing the removal of medical scientists from the formulation of anti-doping policy. Krieger was followed by Jesper Andreasson of Linnaeus University, who managed to infiltrate the world of bodybuilding, interviewing and spending time with bodybuilders who were taking PEDs.

Day one of the INHDR Conference also featured a keynote address from Michael Rasmussen – you can access a review of this here. A review of Day Two of the Conference – taking place today – will follow. To stay up to date with events at the INHDR conference, please follow the Sports Integrity Initiative on Twitter.

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