Thursday, March 20, 2014

Anti-doping needs to confront the issues

The anti-doping community needs to do more to confront the doping issues in sport rather than manage them, was the overriding message from day two of Tackling Doping in Sport, which took place on 19-20 March at Wembley. “I fear there will be no big scandals in the future”, said David Walsh, journalist and author. “Too many people want to manage the problem rather than confront it. There is too much at stake financially.”

Walsh commended the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for continuing with its pursuit of Lance Armstrong, suggesting that other countries may have been reluctant to prosecute such a high-profile athlete, because of the implications such action could have for sport. “If Armstrong had been British, would we have brought him down in the same way?” he asked. “In any other country, he would have been too big to fall”.

Travis Tygart, Chief Executive of USADA, spoke of the importance of “ensuring that the system is cleaned out”. He pointed out that while athletes are banned, many doctors and support staff that may have been complicit in doping remain in sport. “The culture of corruption persists”, he said. “Doctors, team owners, coaches. The likelihood that they will continue in their actions is huge”.

Responding to a question on whether USADA and UK Anti-Doping needed to do more to bring their knowledge to other nations, Tygart said that even in established anti-doping nations, “pressure is put on people within sport organisations not to do the right thing. People within the system are not subject to testing, and they are preying on the athletes, who change.” He also mentioned a big complaint from athletes is that they are not on a level playing field with athletes from other countries.

Martin Gibbs, Director General of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), outlined the work of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC), which is examining all the UCI’s electronic data. He pointed out that in 2013, the UCI had 19 “intentional” doping cases and 34 “inadvertent” cases. However, Walsh questioned the commitment to change by asking why Jonathan Tiernan-Locke’s case had not been resolved yet, despite the initial test being conducted back in February 2012.

Delegates were also updated about steroidal profiling, which needs further refinement before it can be reliably used as evidence. It was pointed out that it is intended as an indicator of potential doping in much the same way as the blood passport, with a follow-up test determining an anti-doping rule violation.

An athlete panel again highlighted that supplement use is a reality in sport (see the Day One review). The difficulty in drawing a line between ‘safe’ food supplements and ‘unsafe’ supplements was again underlined. Delegates also heard from Marjolaine Viret of the University of Neuchâtel about innovation vs. legal scrutiny in anti-doping; from Jaimie Fuller of Skins about doping’s impact on sponsorship; and an update on Spanish law and Operacion Puerto from Enrique Gómez Bastida, Director General for the Spanish anti-doping agency (AEPSAD).

The 2015 edition of Tackling Doping in Sport will take place on 18-19 March at Wembley. Please send any speaker suggestions to Paul Moran. We hope to see you there!


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