PtG Article 30.06.2022

Punishing athletes should not be the only approach to tackling anti-doping

Speakers on a panel about the confidence crisis in anti-doping called for developing systems that protect clean athletes and punish those who enable or force athletes into doping.

Keywords: Doping

Punishing athletes may not be the only approach to tackling doping in sport, speakers outlined at Play the Game on Wednesday 29 June. Focusing investigations on the states, officials and coaches who enable or force athletes into doping might help restore athlete confidence in the anti-doping system.

Speakers outlined that placing liability on the individual athlete has been a trend, which now needs to change.

“We need to work more towards a system where we punish the kingpins and the organisers, whether it’s a nation or an international federation”, said Michael Ask of the International Testing Agency (ITA).

Lack of a common platform for tackling doping means that anti-doping is reactive rather than proactive.

“There are a number of organisations that are comfortable doing nothing because they gain by it themselves,” continued Anders Solheim, CEO of Anti-Doping Norway. “A very easy way to achieve compliance under the World Anti-Doping Code is to do nothing."

“It is very difficult for me to believe that she is responsible for an anti-doping rule violation,” said Jorge Leyva, CEO of the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations (iNADO). Leyva was speaking about Yuliya Stepanova, the Russian athlete who helped blow the whistle on Russia’s state doping programme.

“We need to develop a system that reacts when governments fail to create a system that protects clean athletes.”

Nothing to gain from doping

Journalist Hajo Seppelt raised the idea that punishing athletes for doping is very convenient for international sports federations, who have nothing to gain from doping. They lose sponsorship money, television contracts and their reputation is damaged. As such, many want to retain their own anti-doping management.

“Doping, if it’s not uncovered, helps sport,” he said. “It helps sport performance; helps to make events more popular; helps to create world records; helps to have full stadiums; helps to have high TV ratings.” As such, he argued, many sports want to retain their own anti-doping management rather than hand control to an independent agency.

He agreed with Günter Younger of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that independence has improved but needs to further improve. “At Sochi 2014, they manipulated the entire outcome of the Olympics,” he said. “The bottom line is this.”

Leyva added that proper risk management procedures would have spotted this danger. “We can no longer allow sport to reform itself,” he said.

Younger outlined that staff at WADA’s Intelligence and Investigations Department has grown from one person when he began in 2017 to 17 today, which is 10 per cent of WADA’s staff. However, this is less staff than the International Testing Agency (ITA), founded by WADA and the International Olympic Committee in 2018. Michael Ask, its Senior Manager, said it now has over 70 staff.

Athletes are victims

“Doping victimises athletes,” said Akaash Maharaj of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), who received a round of applause for his question.

“If anyone is allowed to dope, then everybody is compelled to dope, and we would have a sports system where the price of entry is self-poisoning,” he continued.

“There is something perverse about the anti-doping system, in that the clearest and harshest penalties are levied on the athletes, who have the least amount of power, and suffer the most, because of doping. We have relatively new and relatively modest penalties against the enablers of doping, and we have no penalties for the political actors and sport leaders who are the architects of doping.”

“In a rational system, it would not be the victims that paid the highest price, it would be the perpetrators.”