Amidst other issues threatening sporting integrity, such as match fixing and illegal betting, doping remains the biggest scourge in our quest to level the playing field. As the global regulatory body, it is WADA which for the past 17 years has been responsible, along with its partners, for tackling this menace and upholding the rights of the clean athlete. It is also WADA that will continue to protect those rights by ensuring that all our stakeholders comply with the rules and spirit of the World Anti-Doping Code.
WADA learned a tremendous amount from the outcomes of the Pound and McLaren investigations. In particular, the first McLaren Report necessitated a recommendation by WADA concerning athlete eligibility for the 2016 Rio Games. Certainly, governing bodies and sport federations have also learnt a great deal from these two investigations, not least how to manage their respective (anti-doping) roles and how to pursue doping cases when presented with non-analytical evidence of doping.
“With anti-doping so woefully underfunded, there exists a real opportunity for sponsors or broadcasters to consider investing in clean sport”
As it turns out, when we found ourselves in these unchartered waters, the clean sport movement has turned this period around by engaging in broad dialogue with our community. Over the course of several months, our stakeholders publically voiced their opinions – and continue to do so to this day – about the world’s anti-doping system and how it could be improved to ensure that it is truly fit for the future; and how to ensure that WADA, as the international leader of clean sport, has the ability to act as required in future.
It was following a period of intense debate in late 2016 that the two sides of WADA – sport and government – rallied around the idea of an empowered agency at our Foundation Board Meeting in November 2016. Stakeholders agreed a way forward for the anti-doping movement, at the centre of which would be a new, graded sanctioning system for those that contravene world anti-doping rules in the future. They agreed that WADA’s compliance system would only be meaningful and impactful if it came with consequences for those that do not play by the rules. The anti-doping community agreed that such a system was needed to avoid a repeat of the fragmented approach that the McLaren investigation highlighted. Stakeholders agreed that, in order to fulfill its leadership role, it should be for WADA to impose predictable, proportionate yet meaningful consequences for those that subvert the rules. Only then, with revised rules allowing WADA to fulfill its regulatory role, would organisations be deterred from becoming non-compliant in the future.
“WADA’s Pound Commission, and subsequent McLaren Investigation, exposed Russian state manipulation of the doping control process. It found more than 1,000 Russian athletes, across 30 sports, were involved in or benefited from “an institutional conspiracy” of doping. Russian athletes have been banned from all competitions since late 2015.”
This new system, once implemented, would be a game-changer for the clean sport movement, and would directly answer the loud call from the athlete community for more meaningful consequences for those that do not abide by clean sport. And it is the athletes, after all, who are WADA’s number one stakeholder because only they have the first-hand experience of the importance of clean sport, and the damage that can be inflicted by those that dope and rob them of their place on the podium. WADA is pleased by this evolution and will continue pushing forward with the changes required to put such a system into action.
The system is only as good as the players on the pitch
What we have also learnt from the past couple of years is that a system is only as good as those players on the pitch who are tasked with putting rules into action. The introduction of the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code brought with it significant changes, including four-year sanctions for first-time doping offences, a greater emphasis on intelligence and investigations, more of a focus on the sometimes negative influence of the athlete entourage, and a shift towards “smarter”, more intelligent testing.
Whilst these rules are beginning to make inroads in the fight against doping, the appalling breaches of anti-doping rules (exposed by the Pound and McLaren investigations) proved that if there is a lack of human will to practice those rules effectively, then the system will not serve clean athletes as it should. So, this is where WADA’s enhanced compliance monitoring programme – underpinned by a new graded sanctioning system – will work to uphold standards and reinforce trust in clean sport.
Lessons for other stakeholders
It is not just WADA and other anti-doping organisations that have learnt from the events of the last couple of years. Take the pharmaceutical industry, for example, which will reflect on the events and realise that it, more than ever, has a mutual interest (along with the anti-doping industry) in preserving clean sport, and protecting its own products – whether they be on the market already or pipeline products – from abuse and misuse by athletes. Indeed, WADA has for many years forged strong ties with the leading pharmaceutical organisations such as Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Roche.
These partnerships have allowed us to identify trends of legitimate medicinal substances that are being abused or misused by athletes looking to enhance their performance, and to alert pharmaceutical companies to this abuse. The partnerships have also allowed pharmaceutical companies to inform WADA of medicinal substances in their pipeline which might have the characteristics of a substance that could be of interest to dopers. Partnerships with these aims will only have become more important in light of recent revelations regarding doping in sport.
“This new system, once implemented, would be a game-changer for the clean sport movement”
As sport becomes an ever more lucrative investment proposition, sponsors, brands and broadcasters continue to associate themselves with the industry in increasing numbers. As I have proposed in the past, with anti-doping so woefully underfunded, sponsors and broadcasters should consider investing in clean sport, and aligning themselves with the strong values of our industry. The past two years have taught us that there is much to consider for those those with a stake in global sport.
Protecting the integrity of sport is at the core of everything WADA does. Sport is an incredible tool to foster and maintain moral values, develop character and positively shape the bodies and minds of future generations. It is vital to the existence of clean sport that we continue our work in partnership with the global anti-doping community, and other stakeholders, to protect and honour those values intrinsic to sport.