PtG Article 25.04.2019

‘A timely and provocative paper’

The CEO of iNADO, Graeme Steel, says that a new study on scientific integrity in anti-doping by Roger Pielke Jr. and Erik Boye raises many valid questions with respect to the current anti-doping regime, but he also has some critical viewpoints.

Graeme Steel, Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organizations (iNADO) finds that Roger Pielke Jr. and Erik Boye’s new research paper ‘Scientific Integrity and Anti-Doping Regulation’ is “a timely and provocative paper which raises many valid questions with respect to the current anti-doping regime”. Read more about the critique raised in the paper and WADA's response

However, Steel also notes, that the paper in his eyes falls into the same trap that it accuses WADA of when Pielke and Boye state in their conclusion, after providing examples of scientific weakness, that “we do not believe these cases to be unique or rare instances, but rather reflective of systemic shortfalls”.

“It is ironic that a paper such as this should rely on ‘belief’ for its conclusions,” he says.

Furthermore, Graeme Steel finds that the paper misinterprets the current push for better education:

“The primary objective is aimed at instilling value sets which are designed to prepare young people for ‘good’ decision making before they are faced with real world choices as competitive athletes. The research referred to focuses on current athletes.”

A great deal of diversity

Steel also finds that Pielke and Boye’s statement that reinforcing evidence-based policies “is not difficult” is somewhat naïve and underestimates the peculiar characteristics of the sporting environment including its geographical and cultural diversity and ‘layering’ in terms of the level and nature of competitions:

“It is all but impossible to provide any worldwide extrapolation of the findings of specific studies. For example, polling ‘Olympic’ athletes does not represent a genuine cross section of the athlete community which is impacted by doping which can extend even into Masters competitions,” he says.

“Furthermore, there is undoubtedly a great deal of diversity even within the Olympic subset. Nevertheless, it is clear that there needs to be substantially more emphasis and resource applied to more robust assessment of the extent and nature of the problem.”

An overblown list

According to Graeme Steel, Pielke and Boye are “absolutely correct in pressing for a reduction in the size of the Prohibited List”.

And he notes that while the Committee charged with this task does its best, the lack of fundamental clarity of purpose, embodied especially in the ‘spirit of sport’ criterion, makes their task extraordinary difficult:

“Sporting and government politicians who ultimately determine the list see value in appearing to be ‘hardnosed’, and extending the reach of the list can demonstrate their commitment to a mantra of ‘no tolerance’,” he says.

“The practical outcome is an overblown list which catches, sometimes meaning destroys the career of, far too many athletes who have neither set out to nor achieved any significant competitive benefit. The most obvious example is the inclusion of cannabis which intrudes into the private, i.e. not sporting, life of athletes far beyond any legitimate mandate for sport rules. That is far from the only example and while the new draft of the Code attempts to moderate this, it is a cosmetic rather than fundamental policy examination response.”

To Graeme Steel, strengthening of ‘athlete due process’ is a clear high priority, but he state that it has been resisted for some time by the WADA governors:

“A proposal for independent athlete involvement in decision making was not immediately embraced and has only been reluctantly agreed to sometime in the future.”

Different from other areas of the law

Graeme Steel finds that the introduction of a ‘presumption of innocence’ seems a logical step towards preserving athlete rights. But he also says that the practical implications of its introduction have never been addressed by its proponents who fail to recognise and accommodate the unique nature of these rules:

“The need for a prosecutor to prove ‘intent’ would all but neuter the whole regime. The likely outcome is many athletes, who take drugs and gain a competitive advantage over athletes who choose not to, will be enabled to do so by the lack of any ability to prove intent.”

The CEO of iNADO believes that the intent of someone robbing a bank is more easily demonstrated:

“The specific circumstances of sport, whereby someone who is advantaged ipso facto means that someone else is disadvantaged, is fundamentally different from other areas of the law. Until a solution to this conundrum is found the status quo is the lesser of ‘evils’, but the rules can certainly be improved to limit the negative elements of this, limiting the list being the first example.”

But when it comes to a more rigorous assessment of both the impact and cost benefit of anti-doping policies, Graeme Steel agrees that it needs more emphasis:

“The gross underfunding of WADA is almost certainly a factor in this,” he says.

Encouraging feedback

Graeme Steel stresses that his comments reflect the view of the CEO of iNADO only and not necessarily that of iNADO as the members have not been polled.

Nevertheless, his views are welcomed by the two scientists behind the paper:

“I do not agree with everything, but Graeme Steel is certainly not far from the views that we have expressed. If this had been the level of feedback one could get from WADA and its laboratories it would have been great,” says Erik Boye and Roger Pielke Jr. agrees:

“These issues are exactly those that the anti-doping community should be debating in public, supported by evidence. That said there is a significant set of issues where Graeme Steel is in vigorous agreement with our paper. That is encouraging.”

Further reading: