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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Renée Anne Shirley, former Executive Director, JADCO

On 19-20 March at Wembley Stadium, the world’s anti-doping community will convene for the two-day Tackling Doping in Sport conference, organised by World Sports Law Report and supported by UK Anti-Doping. Over 200 delegates from 25 countries will travel to Wembley Stadium to hear the latest techniques in tackling doping in sport, to stay abreast of the latest cases and developments in both testing and educating athletes, and to go over the major cases of the last year, which has been one of the most significant in anti-doping history.

One of the most eagerly anticipated speakers at the event is Renée Anne Shirley, former Executive Director of the JADCO. Shirley was one of four vice-Chairpersons at the first session of the Conference of Parties to the International Convention on Doping in Sport, held in Paris in 2007.

Last summer, JADCO revealed that five athletes had returned positive tests, closely following an earlier positive test by Veronica Campbell-Brown, prompting an outcry in the international media that resulted in most of the athletes being named, and accused of cheating. Veronica Campbell-Brown has recently been cleared of any anti-doping rule violation, however the other cases have yet to reach their conclusion.

Shirley spoke out, revealing that JADCO lacked the staff or funding to adequately test its athletes, prompting a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) investigation that resulted in JADCO being offered support in order to improve its testing programme. World Sports Law Report spoke to her about some of the concerns she has over the way in which anti-doping is being conducted at the moment.

These include the disparity caused by the fact that those with money within the anti-doping system can afford the best legal support, but those who don’t have money can’t get that support; issues with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) not publishing all decisions; the preoccupation with urine tests; the need for testing to be more intelligence driven; concerns over supplements and energy drinks; WADA’s need to move on to the next phase of anti-doping; and issues over the lag time between samples and sanctioning decisions.

WSLR: What are your first impressions of the Tackling Doping in Sport conference?

Shirley: “It has become one of the major events in the international anti-doping event calendar. You have excellent speakers and presentations. However, it is important that the conference remains cutting-edge. Going to the next stage would be something that I hope, as you grow towards your ten-year anniversary, that you are working towards.”


WSLR: What will you be covering at the event?

Shirley: “I’ll be speaking on a panel covering investigations and whistle-blowing. I guess that I’m the whistleblower of the moment! One of the issues I will be covering is the difficultly in speaking out about doping. When I spoke out, I knew what I was facing and even then, it is still a very difficult road to go down.”

“If you look at the Lance Armstrong case, you see the difficulties. Betsy Andreu presents a good example. You are not just speaking out against the person involved, you are speaking out against your country, your sport, your sponsors. It is a difficult thing to do.”


WSLR: What speakers are you looking forward to hearing from and what are you hoping to learn?

Shirley: “Travis [Tygart, CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency] is always interesting, because he’s at the cutting edge. The Lance Armstrong case is not over and there are still some key people to come out. David Howman [WADA Director General] is always good because he outlines WADA’s position, and it would be good to get an update following the World Conference on Doping in Sport [in November 2013].”

“There is an athlete representing the WADA Athletes Commission [boxer Ken Egan, silver medallist at Beijing 2008]. I always like hearing the athlete’s perspective because yes, they have issues with privacy and some other things, but it will be interesting to see what he has to say about dealing with the cheats. It will be good to hear what the issues are when you are clean, but you are going against somebody you know is cheating.”

“Also, I will be interested to hear the legal analysis. Obviously, if you have money as an athlete or anti-doping organisation, you can get the best legal support, but if you don’t, you can’t. There is also an issue with the CAS not publishing all decisions, and we are not yet at the point where everybody on both sides of the coin has all the information they need to make their case. It is useful when you can sit at home and read the decisions and get a feel for them, and it would be nice if CAS would give us that benefit.”


WSLR: Do you think that current testing methods are adequate for catching doping cheats in sport?

Shirley: “Part of the problem is that we are spending too much time doing ordinary urine tests. At the beginning of 2012, we started to move towards blood testing. As a percentage across the board, we need more blood testing, so you can catch things such as HGH, which are almost impossible to detect using urine tests.”

“Things such as CIR [Carbon Isotope Ratio] testing, the athlete biological passport etc., give me hope. The question is how quickly can we put these into the mix. Using the standard urine test has led us into what I call the ‘numbers game’, in that you try to impress everyone by stating how many tests you have done. The question is not only have you done it, but have you done it sensibly, because if the real cheats have managed to evade those tests, then you need methods such as CIR to catch them.”

“The Tyson Gay decision wasn’t made on a single test. It was done through two or three tests using CIR. The same is true if you go back to LaShawn Merritt and a couple of the others. America has gone towards making sure that when it puts forward a case, it has a case that can withstand scrutiny. Smaller countries such as Jamaica will say that they don’t have the money to do this, but I’m not into the numbers game. We need to be more intelligence driven. It comes down to who you target in out of competition testing – that is going to be key.”

“Also, with the new rule changes that are going to take place from next year, people from one country can be tested by others. There will have to be some sort of movement amongst the major international federations and larger NADOs for more targeted testing.”


WSLR: Larger, more established anti-doping countries – if such a thing exists – often claim that there is not a level playing field in terms of testing. They often claim that testers need to focus more on athletes training in remote locations with less of an established anti-doping regime, rather than continually testing their professional, high-profile athletes. Do you agree with their viewpoint?

Shirley: “Part of the issue is that everybody will look at countries like Jamaica and Kenya and say that they have a problem. However, every sport in every country has an issue right now. Australia is a good example. They got a result from the Australian Crime Commission investigation in February 2013 linking organised crime with performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in sport, but I see that New Zealand – which everybody assumes are the ‘clean people’ in anti-doping terms – has realised that it might have a problem with prescribed medication and energy drink combinations. Yes, there are issues with countries in terms of location, etc., but it is more a question about whether we have the will to implement new forms of testing.”


WSLR: Does WADA and the anti-doping system do a good job in ensuring that there is a level playing field between athletes competing from different nations?

Shirley: “WADA is in a difficult place, because we are expecting them to be all things to all men, on a very limited budget. Every country in the world is now taking the position that they are poor, arguing that it is difficult to fund anti-doping because of the economic environment. WADA is funded by governments and sport and governments have been baulking at paying an increased amount to WADA, yet they are asking them to do more and more.”

“At the same time, I think of people like David Howman as being part politician. They have to go around and try and sell their message. The first phase of what has happened since 2003 was trying to get everybody on board.”

“I need to see a change in the world anti-doping programme, in that we need to move to the second phase for the next ten years. WADA needs to step back on some things. For example, I don’t think that it wants to be involved in testing, but wants to be the policeman, going after issues such as compliance. Compliance can’t continue to be self-policed. There are going to have to be some countries or international federations called out, and we’ve been reluctant to do that up to now. I think that this is a period where we’re going to have to see some definite changes. The question is whether the change is going to be sudden or gradual, because the emphasis so far has been on graduality.”


WSLR: Of the Jamaican athletes accused last summer, not one has actually been finally convicted for doping. Many of the substances involved were supplements…

Shirley: “We will start getting the final decisions in April. It has been a little bit difficult, because we didn’t just have the athletics cases, we also had a Taekwondo case. It was difficult to fit everybody in. The athletes wanted time, then the cases all came up together.”

“Supplements are a big issue. When we were drawing up the International Convention on Doping in Sport in 2005, it was one of the issues that governments recognised back then. It is a largely unregulated area. Athletes and people taking supplements are not taking enough care to check what is in them – they take it for granted that ‘natural’ means that they contain natural substances, for example. It is one of the biggest areas that we are going to have to do some work on.”


WSLR: After the Jamaican athletes were suspended, they were labelled as cheats by the press, and even some members of the anti-doping community. Do we have a problem in that the anti-doping community are too quick to herald any positive test as a victory for the current system, when many of these cases turn out to involve inadvertent doping? Is the current system catching real doping cheats, or inadvertent dopers?

Shirley: “Of course you are going to hear people like Lord Coe – who hopes to be the next President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) – defend the anti-doping team. Yes, we are catching some doping cheats, but in percentage terms it is less than 5% of all tests done worldwide. When people carry out social surveys of athletes, they think that the figure is nearer to 20% of annual tests involve cheats. So we know that we are not catching the cheats, especially the big cheats.”

“That is why we have had to increase the length of time for which samples are stored from eight to ten years. That doesn’t tell you that the system is getting better – it tells you that we are trying our hardest to catch the cheats.”

“Secondly, with the Jamaican athletes, while the media and people in other countries may be sceptical about what is happening in Jamaica, part of the issue is that the Jamaican public, media and government don’t want to think that our athletes – our heroes – are cheaters. They would prefer to believe that they have been unfairly stigmatised by the foreign press, who are looking at clean athletes overseas and are trying to turn them into cheats, and people such as myself have joined the other side.”

“Remember Michelle Smith in Ireland? It is very difficult for people to call their own athletes cheats. This is something that it is important to remember. Unfortunately, most of the time, if we wait long enough, we find that there is some element of truth to suspicions about athletes.”


WSLR: Do you agree that there is a problem with supplement use in sport?

Shirley: “When I was CEO of the Jamaican Rugby Union, one of the things that hit home to me was how much the athletes went into the gym, and how many of them were taking supplements. A lot of people think that supplements are pills. Energy drinks are now also a big social issue with young people. The problem is not just with bulking up. For example, finding out how many energy drinks an athlete has drunk when they go out to a party the night before is now a problem that we wouldn’t have had in the past.”

“Also, how many energy drinks have they consumed before a track meeting; how many lozenges have they taken – the ones that look like sweets but contain testosterone? They are out of your system in a couple of hours, but over time, they do give you an advantage. One Jamaican got caught using something called ‘Animal Pak’. He says he didn’t tell his parents or his coach…”

“A lot of young athletes will not look to role models, they will look to what their competitors are doing. It is like smoking – a lot of people took to smoking as they didn’t want to feel left out. Dealing with some of those over the counter products that are not good for young athletes will also be key. For example, the energy drinks that may have other things in them, which may not be right for a young heart or people subject to concussions. I would love to see Tackling Doping in Sport take on some of these issues, periodically – for example a session on young athletes.”

“People want to feel good when they take these things. Chemists tell me that sometimes, all that you are getting is chemicals that make you feel as if you’ve had a boost, but the side-effects of some of these things are dangerous. However, if somebody feels that they are going to get something out of it, then that person quite likely will do it. It is a question of risk. Do the rewards outweigh the risks? For a lot of people taking supplements, they realise that once they get – for example - the benefits of steroids or testosterone into their body, it lasts for a long time. My concerns are about the young and the ones towards the end of their careers, who want to stretch things a bit longer. Those are the people that we should be targeting.”


WSLR: Does the lag time between suspensions and hearings create a problem?

Shirley: “I have an issue with people hearing about the A-sample and the B-sample. There is supposed to be a short amount of time between the two, but the leaking of information during that time is an issue for me. After the B-sample, making the decision about the hearings and getting them done can be an issue. It is a two way street. The athletes want to put their case together and, typically, they ask for more time etc. In terms of sanctions, you now receive the maximum, and if you are able to put a case together, you may be able to get a reduction. Time is needed to put these things together or to negotiate by providing information. It is all about risk and reward.”


WSLR: Do you think that a two-year or four-year ban is appropriate?

Shirley: “The athletes are probably the strongest supporters of a longer ban. When you are in a race and you see somebody beside you that you used to be able to beat just leave you in the dust, getting all of the rewards, medals and sponsorship, you can never get that back. When you talk to athletes, you realise that this is their livelihood and they feel very strongly about it. I see the need for the four-year ban, but there is a need for the ability to show compassion. When it is found that somebody has inadvertently doped, for example, we must still have reprimands and shorter sentences as an option.”


WSLR: What are your plans for the future?

Shirley: “I’m semi-retired. I’m setting up a small educational foundation in honour of my father, who taught teachers how to teach. He was the Principal of a teachers’ training college. I am also working with a couple of friends to set up a sports academy. I am still a rugby fan [Shirley was CEO of the Jamaica Rugby Football Union from 2009 to 2012], and I want to try and put a little bit of pressure on the International Rugby Board and the wider sporting community to recognise some of the issues I have highlighted above.”

“In Jamaica, we have athletes who can use their skills to transfer across to other sports – it needn’t be purely about track and field. I am working with a couple of partners in this area. In terms of anti-doping, I am trying to figure out a role for myself, because I believe that because of some of the knowledge I have gained in a decade – I was there when we were trying to set up the international convention on doping in sport – and the fact that I have met a lot of the major players, means that I have experience that is valuable to somebody.”


Shirley will be one of many high-profile speakers at Tackling Doping in Sport 2014. For more information, visit

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