PtG Article 16.02.2024

CEO of USADA: "There is a lot we could do to ease the burden on athletes"

Education of athletes, a safer whistleblower system, and a less intrusive approach to finding athletes for testing could be part of protecting the fundamental human rights of athletes in the battle against doping.

On the final morning of Play the Game 2024, a panel of six experts produced a wide-ranging series of presentations looking at the role of human rights in the anti-doping fight from different angles.

“We need to provide an athlete-centric approach,” said Nicholas Raudenski, head of intelligence & investigations at the International Testing Agency. 

“Whistleblowing has a negative context, and we need to try and put in a more positive approach. All too often, reporters are ostracised. We need to provide a safe space for whistleblowing. The credibility of anti-doping monitoring has to come with robust attention to the system of reporting,” Raudenski said. 

The current system does not help investigators build a rapport with athletes under suspicion either, and in later remarks, Raudenski added: 

“You notify an athlete, and it goes to WADA, the IOC and a whole bunch of other people. Then the newspapers pick up on it. Then the investigators come along and say, ‘We want to investigate this’ and the athletes are like ‘No way, everyone already thinks I’m guilty'. We need to address this earlier and take a human approach to this and contact the person directly.”

GPS tracking could replace the whereabouts system

The stress that athletes are constantly under from the current system and complying with the whereabouts system was brought to vivid life in a thought-provoking presentation by Travis T. Tygart, chief executive officer of US anti-doping agency USADA.

“What employer requires you to enter your location 365 days a year,” asked Tygart rhetorically. 

"But hey, you’re an elite athlete and you love your job, so you do it and enter your location on the Whereabouts app 365 days a year, even though the doping control officers only show up three times a year.”

“We could do away with whereabouts and just put the onus on the anti-doping organisations to find the athletes. That’s unlikely to happen but there are a whole lot of things we could do to ease the burden on athletes,” Tygart argued.

The current system of athletes notifying WADA involves sending a push notification, but it could be changed if their location is pulled daily from their mobile phones using Global Positioning Systems (GPS). 

USADA is looking at geofencing, Tygart revealed but said that using GPS would involve athletes having to opt in and could also create problems if testing officers set off on a long journey to find a player based on their GPS location, only to find on arrival that they are somewhere else. “That would be a waste of resources.”

How anti-doping is pursued at a practical level was also highlighted by Anders Solheim, chief executive of Anti-Doping Norway, who reflected: 

“There is a difference between an inspectorate, which we don’t have in anti-doping, and a service provider which you can change if you don’t like them.”

Education and guides to help athletes

The anti-doping system “should not just be based on punitive measures and punishment” said panellist Ginous Alford, director of sport & human rights at the World Players Association, which is launching a best practice guide after carrying out a human rights impact assessment on the current doping system.

Another resource for athletes is available through Ombuds, which was set up by the World Anti-Doping Agency as a free resource for athletes. Ombuds provides education for players and operates independently of WADA but has no formal authority. 

Anna Thorstenson from Ombuds said that the idea is to fill a gap between the athletes and the national anti-doping organisations (ADOs), which generally lack an Ombuds. 

“The athletes' first experience should not be when they are tested, but when they are educated,” said Thorstenson.

Suggestion: Track doping through an open diary

An alternative to the current system based on cycling was outlined by Wladimir Andreff, honorary professor for sports at University Paris 1 in France. 

A six-step programme would involve athletes noting their use of performance-enhancing drugs in a diary, which should always be available on request. Failure to produce the diary or a test showing a drug not included in the diary would then result in a ban.

For all the problems of the current system, this idea met with little enthusiasm from the panel or the audience, who left with plenty of suggestions but not so many solutions.

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