SII Focus 15th April 2019

ITA denies that NADO agreements undermine anti-doping

The International Testing Agency (ITA) has denied that by signing agreements with national anti-doping organisations (NADOs), it is undermining the current structure of anti-doping. Over 10 NADOs have now signed agreements for the ITA to manage aspects of their testing programmes, as well as numerous international federations.

On 21 March, the Anti-Doping Agency of Serbia (ADAS) announced that it had agreed a partnership with the ITA at the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Annual Symposium in Lausanne, which indicated that the ITA was taking control of its testing programme. ‘It is commendable to note that ADAS is among the first ten countries that have signed an agreement with the ITA, in addition to China, Japan, Germany, and other major countries’, read a statement. ‘It is expected that ADAS will continue to organise doping controls at major competitions that take place in Belgrade’.

History

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was initially conceived as a subsidiary of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). However, at the 1999 World Conference on Doping in Sport, governments were understood to have been unimpressed with the IOC’s efforts to keep drugs out of sport after the 1998 Tour de France doping scandal. As the governments had insisted on influence over WADA that was independent of the IOC, a WADA Foundation Board was approved consisting of 50% IOC representatives and 50% government representatives, with each providing half the organisation’s budget.

At present, WADA sets its budget, 50% of which must be provided by governments through NADOs. The IOC has a policy of only matching that 50% in funding once contributions from governments are received. This means that governments must firstly negotiate with WADA over any budget increase, which the IOC must then match. For 2019, WADA’s budget is US$34.67 million, which means that governments and the IOC must provide US$17.34 million each. 

IOC takeover?

Since the IOC funds the ITA, its takeover of NADO functions could be viewed as undermining this delicate partnership with governments to combat doping in sport. One of the stated aims of the ITA is to reduce the international federations’ responsibility for testing. So is another aim to take responsibility for testing away from NADOs?

‘Under the current framework, NADOs as signatories to the World Anti-Doping Code have responsibilities for testing in their respective countries’, explained an ITA spokesperson in an email. ‘The ITA does not intend to change that and to the contrary, ITA considers that having strong NADOs is fundamental to the fight against doping worldwide. NADOs must continue to ensure that sport in their country is played on a level-playing field and that athletes do not expose themselves to substances or methods which can harm their health.

‘Conscious of the pressure for increased independence in the fight against doping and robustness of the programs, NADOs are however encouraged to share the coordination of their testing program with the ITA, and even outsource aspects thereof to the ITA, should they wish to further promote the principle of a transparent testing program. History has indeed shown us that the race for medals knows no boundary and can push people, whatever organisation they represent, to violate the spirit of sport and the anti-doping rules in place. Increasing scrutiny of the respective anti-doping programs by way of adopting an inclusive approach whereby NADOs and ITA are jointly coordinating the testing of athletes will promote impartiality.’

So how will agreements with NADOs work? ‘The idea behind the ITA’s agreements with NADOs is the promotion of an efficient cooperation between anti-doping stakeholders’, explains the spokesperson. ‘The objective is to ensure the sharing of information and intelligence, and to foster synergies between national-level and international-level anti-doping programs. Other areas of cooperation include anti-doping education and the delivery of outreach activities. Finally, under these agreements, a proper legal framework allows the ITA and NADOs to cooperate on sample collection.’

So, does any of this risk affecting the delicate balance of power between sport and governments in fighting against doping in sport? ‘Again, as mentioned, the purpose of establishing agreements with NADOs is to create synergies between them and the ITA and increase our collective efficiency’, writes the spokesperson. ‘It has nothing to do with carving out the NADOs nor governments’ prerogatives. Therefore, the ITA has no intention to erode government influence over anti-doping. 

‘Public authorities are key stakeholders in the fight against doping and their involvement is required insofar as doping poses a serious threat to public health. Public authorities invest significant resources in their respective NADOs and the financing of WADA. It is therefore also ITA’s objective to promote efficiency and thus ensure that public funding serves the fight against doping and the equal treatment of athletes. The ITA is keen on cooperating with all relevant public authorities, in particular in the areas of prevention & education, research, investigations and the manufacturing and trade of illicit substances.’

NADOs are currently responsible for testing at a national level and in some cases, international competition. For example, it is common for the host country’s NADO to be responsible for testing at international events. Due to the corruption that occurred at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, it does appear as if this function is being stripped from NADOs.

‘One of the key pillars behind the establishment of the ITA is the removal of actual or potential conflict of interests in the fight against doping’, explains the spokesperson. ‘The Olympic Movement endorsed the principle that anti-doping should be made independent whereby testing is made free from any national or political interests. In addition, a key principle underlying the establishment of the ITA was that testing in particular should be harmonious across countries and sports so that all athletes are confident that they are treated equally. Today, the diversity among NADOs and sports organisations means that athletes are not treated equally or subject to the same testing programs depending on the country they come from or the sport they play. The ITA offers the advantage of overseeing independently anti-doping programs worldwide and, therefore, to submit all athletes, whatever their sport or country, to the same procedures, guidelines and standards.’

Dual system?

Whether this creates the perception of a dual system, whereby some ADOs are viewed as not as effective as the ITA, is open to debate. Recently, the IOC announced that it would reinstate weightlifting into the programme for the Paris 2024 Olympics, so long as the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) appointed the ITA to conduct its testing. 

Whether or not it was the IOC’s intention, this creates the perception that the IWF is operating a substandard anti-doping programme. However, it could be the case that doping is more prevalent in weightlifting because it is more effective in enhancing performance than in other sports. If that is the case, there is an argument that the IWF’s testing programme isn’t to blame.

‘All IFs are different, in particular in terms of doping risks and resources available to effectively fight doping’, agrees the spokesperson. ‘One can therefore not issue a general statement about the quality of IFs’ anti-doping programs altogether. Sports like cycling or athletics have been at the forefront of the fight against doping for a number of years.

‘The majority of IFs, however, may not have the resources to cover the extremely broad range of skillset that anti-doping requires. Putting in place a unit composed of scientists, medical doctors, testing experts, investigators, lawyers is not possible nor sensible for each IF.

‘We also know that doping practices have developed into complex networks so that they now operate across sports and countries. As a result, fighting doping on its own as an IF is no longer necessarily seen as the most efficient way forward to address the problem. 

‘This is precisely where the ITA comes into play. It offers to all IFs and Major event organisers a true international centre of anti-doping expertise which they can rely on for the implementation of their programs. Scientists, lawyers, doping control officers, forensic experts, sociologists, testing coordinators are all under the same roof to find synergies and solutions to the ever-growing needs of the fight against doping.’

Controlling anti-doping

On the face of it, very little has changed. A NADO that signs an agreement with the ITA will still have to develop and fund a testing programme for their country, but will pay the ITA to outsource aspects of it. Given the State doping that occurred in Russia through a corrupt NADO (the Russian Anti-Doping Agency – RUSADA), it is not difficult to see the logic that ITA oversight might prevent such a situation from again occurring.

By outsourcing testing to the ITA, NADOS are freed up to concentrate on pursuing investigations, a requirement under Article 5.8 of the International Standard for Testing and Investigations (ISTI). If this is the result of an agreement with the ITA, it is likely to be a good thing for the NADO concerned.

Just 1.43% of tests result in an adverse analytical finding (AAF, or ‘positive test), and the percentage of anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) is considerably less than that due to the fact that between 40% and 60% of AAFs are inadvertent. We already know that increased testing doesn’t produce more ADRVs, but more intelligent testing may generate better results. Testing doesn’t catch doping cheats, but investigations do – as recent history has proven.

Sixty-seven NADOs are currently listed on the website of the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations (iNADO). How many people are employed by those NADOs is not known. Whether outsourcing testing to the ITA results in staff cuts remains to be seen but is unlikely, given that most NADOs argue that they don’t have adequate staff for investigations.

The only real change is that through the ITA, the sporting movement does appear to be wresting control over the anti-doping system from the NADOs. Given the crisis that occurred in Russia, this is perhaps understandable. The 2019 World Conference on Doping in Sport in Katowice, Poland, is fast approaching. Given the focus of the IOC on the commercial value of the Olympic Games, whether governments can renew their trust in it to manage anti-doping remains to be seen.

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