SII Focus 13th February 2015

WADA supports sporting, rather than criminal, sanctions for dopers

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has clarified that sanctioning of doping can be adequately handled by sporting organisations, and a comment made by its President, Sir Craig Reedie, was not intended as a suggestion that more countries should criminalise doping. However, WADA is urging governments to get involved in regulating the supplements industry, which it says is now impacting society as a whole – not just elite athletes.

“While not wishing to interfere in the sovereign right of any government to make laws for its people, WADA does not believe the sporting community condones the criminalisation of dopers”, WADA spokesperson Ben Nichols told the Sports Integrity Initiative. “Sanctions for dopers are fairly and proportionately handled at the sporting level. Some countries do have criminal legislation in place. Take, for example, Italy. In the example of Italy, the law has proven an effective tool – or ‘stick’ – but no athlete has yet been imprisoned to our knowledge.”

On 4 February, after attending the second International Conference on the Pharmaceutical Industry and the Fight against Doping in Tokyo, Reedie wrote that doping was increasingly becoming a public health issue, as not just elite athletes are involved. ‘If governments can introduce relevant laws, and applicable penalties to combat this abuse of substances, then police will act and the scourge of doping can be prevented’, he wrote. This was taken by many as a WADA call for more countries to criminalise doping in sport, as Germany is attempting to do.

The Sports Integrity Initiative asked WADA to clarify exactly what Reedie was referring to. “We are referring to legislation that makes the distribution and trafficking of WADA Prohibited List substances an illegal activity”, said Nichols. “Here, we are referring to laws that deal with those supplying the banned substances to the athletes. This is a commitment governments have made in ratifying the UNESCO Convention [International Convention on Doping in Sport] where an appropriate clause is included. We are also referring to legislation that permits the exchange of data between government agencies (such as Police and Customs) and anti-doping organisations. Take ASADA [Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency], for example – as a governmental organisation, it receives useful information on doping substances from all Australian government and law enforcement agencies. UKAD [UK Anti-Doping] is another example of a governmental-backed agency that works well with government and law enforcement. There is the recent example of a case in which a rugby player was banned after UKAD received information from the Border Force that a package with human Growth Hormone was addressed to the player. The package was intercepted and seized; and sport decided that the athlete would be banned as per World Anti-Doping Code rules.”

However, WADA does support tougher government legislation on the labelling, manufacture and distribution of supplements. While offering a WADA ‘kitemark’ to supplements would be legally problematic, it is keen to encourage athletes to use the Global DRO (Drug Reference Online) tool. This has been developed via a partnership between UKAD, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). It is intended to provide athletes and support personnel in these countries and Japan (the Japan Anti-Doping Agency is an official Global DRO Licensee) with information about the prohibited status of specific medications based on WADA’s Prohibited List.

“The use of supplements by athletes is a concern, because in many countries the manufacturing and labelling of supplements does not follow any regulation, which may lead to a supplement containing an undeclared substance”, said Nichols. “A significant number of positive tests have been attributed to the misuse of supplements. Under the 2015 Code, ‘Unintentional dopers‘ who unknowingly take a ‘contaminated product‘ can have their sanction reduced to a reprimand without regard for the banned substance – it could be a stimulant or a steroid – if the athlete establishes that the source of the banned substance was a ‘contaminated product‘ and that they were not significantly at fault or negligent in their ingestion of the substance contained in the ‘contaminated product‘. The best advice we can offer is that of extreme caution to athletes – athletes should make the necessary checks through their anti-doping organisation (e.g. through the Global DRO resource).”

WADA clarified that it doesn’t have the budget to campaign on supplement use in society, which is why it is urging governments to get involved in this area. “The abuse of supplements in the wider public is something we have talked about for a while – we are seeing examples of steroid abuse in young people in many countries”, said Nichols. “These are young people who want to ‘look good’ by taking ‘Performance and Image Enhancement Drugs’. It is a worry, as is the abuse of such substances amongst older generations who want to preserve “the fountain of youth”. WADA’s close links with the pharmaceutical industry help restrict the abuse of banned substances in sport – but such partnerships also allow WADA to alert pharmaceutical companies to substances being abused by athletes that could also be of danger to the wider public. WADA believes that regulation of the supplement industry rests firmly with governments, and the industry itself. Again, the matter is included in the responsibilities accepted by governments in the UNESCO Convention.”

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