Is the World Anti Doping Agency fit for purpose, it appears to be broken so how can we fix it without tinkering around the edges rather lets go in with a clean sheet of paper and design a system that allows athletes to compete in a clean environment.
The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) is tasked with monitoring sport around the world to ensure that sportsmen and women are not gaining unfair advantage by using substances and techniques know to provide performance enhancement. However we know of recent instances where this has failed, Lance Armstrong and members of his team where systematically cheating by blood doping, The entire Russian Athletics programme used state sponsored doping, drugging and cheating, World Athletics in general is under scrutiny, and most recently it was revealed that Tennis Star Maria Sharapova failed a drugs test at this years Australian Open Tennis Championships.
The ultimate responsibility for what goes into an athletes body lies with them, and although they have faith in the teams of people around them, Managers, Physios, Nutritionist and Trainers, it is ultimately there responsibility to ensure that they comply with Anti-Doping requirements. So when an athlete says “I didn’t know” it should not wash with any authority as responsibility lies with them and they should know, It’s not as if the information is not readily available via an online database, that anyone can access.
So how then can we ensure that we fix doping in sport? To begin with any athlete who receives funding from the state or federation for their country should enter into a written contract with the state or federation and agree that if they fail a drug test they are wholly and completely liable for the results of that test and that they understand that they have access to the list of banned substances and that it is their duty to question anything given to them by anyone within their team. Further the management of testing needs to change, at present each nation has its own national testing service, however the state sponsored doping undertaken by Russia and possibly other countries indicates that the system can be corrupted. Therefore in order to counter that no nation should undertake the testing of its own athletes, either during the relevant season or in the closed season. They should continue to collect the samples but then the testing should be undertaken outside of that nation.
WADA as an organisation should create a buddy system linking nations together in order to undertake drug testing, so for example the UK has two nations as near neighbour namely the Republic of Ireland and France. So an athletes sample taken in the UK would be sent to either the Irish or French testing facilities to be tested, and to ensure that the system cannot be corrupted there are no reciprocal testing of samples, so if a UK sample goes to France the French samples go to Spain or Germany. This would ensure that there is no possibility of a nod and a wink to say if you pass my athlete I will pass yours.
There is currently much discussion in relation to bans when cheating is detected, and don’t get me wrong I believe any form of doping is cheating and is unacceptable from a sportsperson or a nation, and for me as such there should be a ZERO tolerance approach. For me it should be seen as gross misconduct and should be met with dismissal from the sport. Many people question can we take away a sportspersons livelihood in that way, well please tell me why they should be dealt with in any way differently from any other employee in a corporate environment. If they are found cheating they have broken the codes of that sport and should no longer be allowed to participate, and to me there are not degrees of acceptable, miss a drug test you are cheating and should no longer be able to participate. Athletes know that in order to show they are complying with the rules that they must notify the relevant authorities of where they are in particular windows of the day, so how difficult is it to keep a record of this and make sure they are available where and when they say they will be. UKAD could establish a duty officer system so if a plan changes the athlete in question can notify them of changes so that if they are due a random test they can be found as opposed to missing a test.
They may not wish to be but sports people are role models. The participants at the top level yes want to compete but if they voluntarily decide to participate in a sport that draws the attention of the general populous they know that they take on the mantle of a role model. If your ambition is to play football for Liverpool FC or to play rugby for Wasps or England, or you are an athlete competing in track and field or gymnastics or whatever sport you know that you are going to draw attention, so if you are subject to doping testing in that sport you know that if you are in breach of any aspect you are liable and as such could be dismissed for any breach in that regard. This ensures that anyone who follows your sport knows that you and the sport are clean.
The question has to be asked why you would allow someone who has been a doping cheat to come back into your sport, any association with cheating tarnishes the whole sport. There should be no sliding scales of punishment, bringing your sport into disrepute should be seen as gross misconduct and should as I have suggested warrant dismissal.
WADA and the sporting authorities in the form of the International Federation have the opportunity to create a sporting environment where sport is played on a clean level playing field. Athletes can check if something they are taking is on the banned list, I mean a simple google search on a smart phone takes you to the WADA website where you can search a substance and its derivatives and see if you should be putting it into your body. As such WADA need to stand up to the governing authorities and insist that changes be made to the way athletes are tested, for example the buddy system is not saying that nations are systematically cheating but it takes away the chance for a rogue scientist, national doping authority, national body, or nation to cheat other clean athletes out of the chance to compete in a clean environment.
Sometimes authorities need to take a good hard look and determine that the system just isn’t working and rather than tinkering around the edges need to say enough is enough and taking a clean sheet of paper say how should it work to ensure that it works in the way it needs to. In this instance some of what WADA is doing works, however if a nation can cheat to the extent of Russia then something is wrong that needs to be fixed, so why not have neighbouring countries testing each others samples, why not have a zero tolerance approach to cheating and allow the public to enjoy the wonderful spectacle of sport played in a cheat free environment.