25 June 2018

New book tackles WADA policies with a focus on change and athlete rights

• Dr. Paul Dimeo and Dr. Verner Møller critique the anti-doping system and propose radical solutions to the problem of drugs in sports

In their new book, The Anti-Doping Crisis in Sport: Causes, Consequences, Solutions, authors Dr. Paul Dimeo and Dr. Verner Møller unpack the current anti-doping policies enforced by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and question the humanity, effectiveness and purpose behind current practices. Dimeo and Møller, who have spent their careers studying sport, run through the history of anti-doping and sport in the early part of their new book, with a particular emphasis on elite sport, and explain how the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) came to exist and what the organisation aims to accomplish. 

The authors then break down how current practices – such as requiring athletes to alert WADA officials of their location 24/7 – strip athletes of their basic human rights. They fully assess policy, highlight case studies of athletes who have been negatively affected by arbitrary punishments or false tests, and offer new solutions to create more ethical and athlete-friendly doping policies. The evidence and proof shown through the case studies and statistics in the book demonstrate the heightened importance of Dimeo and Møller’s work and, while the book is comprehensive, the authors present their findings and solutions in a digestible manner that makes their ideas accessible to the scholars, athletes, coaches and other readers interested in learning more about doping policies.   

The Anti-Doping Crisis in Sport paints a clear picture of the problems associated with current drug testing systems and forces the reader to question his or her own preconceived notions of doping, those who dope, and the appropriate punishment for athletes who test positive for banned substances. For example, Dimeo and Møller share stories of athletes – including swimmers Jessica Hardy and Kicker Vencill – who both unknowingly digested contaminated products, failed tests and lost career opportunities, all without an intention to dope. These athletes, according to the authors, fell victim to a system that aims to make examples out of any athlete who fails a test, regardless of the situation surrounding that athlete. 

While some may argue that the athletes have a responsibility to ensure that everything they consume fits within WADA guidelines, the authors believe that athletes are often prescribed illegal substances by well-meaning doctors or not educated enough by WADA to be aware of all of the substances on WADA’s Prohibited List. These cases show the human side of how these policies can immediately damage the reputation of what Dimeo and Møller classify as a population of innocent athletes. Athlete rights serves as a theme and important element throughout The Anti-Doping Crisis in Sport, and the authors also use the case of the late Antonio Pettigrew and the late Terry Newton to highlight the mental health and financial struggles that can also face athletes who have been accused and penalised for doping. 

Media coverage surrounding doping, according to the authors, often involves ‘simplistic scandal-driven versions of doping stories’, categorising all accused dopers as cheaters (pg. 127). While not all media stories about doping should be dismissed as ‘simplistic’, and in some cases, journalists have helped expose serial dopers, the authors build a strong case as to why journalists, doping officials, and the general public should look more critically at each doping case individually before reaching sweeping conclusions. Though the authors do acknowledge that some athletes intentionally take performance-enhancing drugs to be competitive and achieve financial success in sport, other athletes, including many highlighted in the book such as Hardy, should not be lumped in the same category as those who have knowingly taken substances in the belief that this will make them more competitive. 

The idea of clean sport, according to Dimeo and Møller, is promoted and regulated by ‘moral arbitrators who over-emphasise the scandalous nature of doping, and under-emphasise or ignore the failings of, and harms caused by, anti-doping policies (preface, vii)’. Under the modern system, elite athletes who are part of a Registered Testing Pool (RTP), and even amateur athletes who compete under a governing body that performs drug testing, must follow a strict set of rules, avoid any and all banned substances, and alert drug testing authorities of their location. They must provide testers with 60 minutes every day when they are available for testing; athletes are then required to complete any test in the presence of an official or have blood drawn via needle from their bodies. 

These strict guidelines, which Dimeo and Møller consider inhumane, would not be required in any workforce, and athletes who may want to protest the extreme lack of privacy involved in a such a process face the stigma of being assumed to be a doper. Dimeo and Møller recognise that elite athletes must meet certain standards and can be held to a higher level of public scrutiny than those in some other professions, but, citing fellow doping scholar Dr. Kathryn Henne, they write that the current testing policy requires athletes to be ‘subject to expectations of bodily purity that are policed by routine bodily scrutiny, a number of surveillance mechanism, and binding regulatory codes (pg. 63)’.  

In an effort to highlight their frustration with current anti-doping procedures and the way in which these policies dehumanise athletes, Dimeo and Møller propose eight new self-proclaimed radical strategies to fix the current anti-doping system. They offer the ideas of making elite sport amateur and creating a salary cap as a way to equalise prizes and diminish the financial incentive to dope, and they also suggest accredited doctors and health checks to promote athlete safety. In addition, Dimeo and Møller put forth the idea of increased education and a points-based penalty system, but it is their chaperone suggestion that truly demonstrates what Dimeo and Møller think of the current anti-doping system. 

The authors suggest that WADA should enlist personal chaperones to follow athletes around their home and prevent visitors from entering the property without a proper pat-down, as a way to avoid athletes interacting with drugs. This idea, while initially seeming satirical, is used to demonstrate that even something as extreme as a 24-hour chaperone does ‘not seem to violate the athletes’ privacy any more than the current system does’ (pg. 159). 

Dimeo and Møller explain that the current anti-doping policy represents a human rights concern; thus, a personal chaperone, while impractical and unlikely to ever be approved, would be less invasive than spontaneous drug tests in front of an official. The authors write that with increasing technology on the horizon, one official has even suggested implanting a microchip in athletes that would identify banned substances without the need for a lab. Dimeo and Møller brush off this proposal and dismiss it as intrusive and problematic, but mentioning this alternative proposal highlights the extremes to which proposed anti-doping measures are going to uphold the ideals of ‘clean sport’, regardless of the strain of these policies on the athletes.

Dimeo and Møller argue current anti-doping policy is not focused on protecting athletes or even ensuring clean sport; instead, they believe that the purpose of WADA’s existing anti-doping policy is designed to ‘[strike] the right balance between the image of sport as healthy and fair and the attraction of sport as high-level entertainment in order to facilitate the continuous growth of the sports economy (pg. 161)’. Dimeo and Møller explain that ‘the low level of testing success means that world sport is no closer to a level playing field than it was before WADA was established’.

Innocent athletes have been stigmatised or unfairly penalised, according to the authors, as the result of faulty tests and heterogenous punishments (pg.65). They further critique the anti-doping efforts over the last three decades by arguing that WADA ‘paradoxically increased the drastic cases of doping, led to irrational stigmatisation of anyone caught doping, while at the same time consistently failed to crack down on doping (pg. viii)’. This final point, the statement that the implementation of WADA and the procedure of athlete testing has not effectively decreased the frequency of doping or lessened the concern about an unlevel playing field, emphasises the need for change, and Dimeo and Møller fully communicate this message. 

The authors’ critical assessment of WADA and the current anti-doping policies stands out from the traditional narrative of doping as an unethical, immoral decision by athletes to gain a competitive advantage, and their proposed solutions encourage readers to think critically about the nature, purpose and benefit of sport in a cultural sphere before making rash judgements about an athlete who fails a drug test. The authors acknowledge that their ideas and solutions put forward in The Anti-Doping Crisis in Sport, particularly the proposition that athletes should have a 24-hour chaperone monitoring their behaviour to prevent doping, sound radical, and perhaps infeasible, but their goal isn’t to solve the doping (or anti-doping) crisis in 166 pages. Rather, they aim to ‘encourage rational debate based on the preserving fundamental human rights and dignities in the context of the modern sports culture’ – a mission they accomplish (preface, ix).

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