By William T. Endicott
Last year in the lead-up to the Rio Olympics, I wrote three articles [1 June, 11 July, 31 August] for Sportscene outlining the parameters of the very serious doping problem in the Olympics generally and in Canoe-Kayak specifically.
On March 16, 2017, the International Olympic Committee announced a Declaration of 12 principles for what it intends to do to control doping in all Olympic sports, presumably including Canoe-Kayak. The Declaration promises “a more robust and independent anti-doping system.” Sounds great, doesn’t it?
But in reality, when you look at the specifics, it’s not so great. In fact it’s pretty bad. While some of what the IOC wants to do is good, on the whole, the Declaration falls far short of what would have to be done to seriously control doping in the Olympics.
Here’s a point-by-point analysis of the Declaration and after that a more logical solution to the problem:
Creating an Independent WADA
Principles 1-6 of the Declaration have to do with creating an independent World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) , and on the surface, it’s a great idea. As we saw last year, on June 15, 2016, the New York Times ran a story saying that the existing WADA is so riddled with conflict of interest that it cannot do its job of policing doping in Olympic sports properly. It cited Dr. Arne Ljungqvist, WADA vice president from 2008, 2013, and a former medical commissioner for both the IOC and the governing body for track and field, as saying he had warned WADA for years about Russian cheating but conflict of interests within WADA prevented any action from being taken because WADA “was too politically infected.”
The basic allegation is that Olympic officials are not inclined to reveal doping transgressions that could hurt the image of the Games and government officials are inclined to compromise their own countries’ drug testing for nationalistic reasons.
But the IOC Declaration doesn’t fix this. It says simply: “Since the sports organisations and the governments are both founding stakeholders on an equal basis, they must be represented equally on the WADA Foundation Board and Executive Committee.” But that’s essentially what created the conflict of interest within WADA and the Declaration doesn’t explain how it will change anything.
Independent Drug Testing
Principles 7-11 have to do creating independent drug testing and again on the surface it sounds good, but when you look at the details, you see they’re too weak.
For example, the Declaration talks about creating an Independent Testing Authority (ITA) which makes sense. But then for actually implementing the testing, it says “The NADOs to execute these international tests on request by the ITA.” (NADO means “National Anti-Doping Organization.)
But putting the NADOs in charge is what created this mess in the first place; it put the fox in charge of the henhouse. Leaving NADOs in charge just continues that.
Plainly stated, last year we saw how certain NADOs are corrupt and dishonest. We read reports about the Russian and South African NADOs, for example. There are others.
And as if to underscore the inadequacy of the Declaration in dealing with this problem of corruption, the Declaration says “The ITA board to have no power to direct or instruct the management of the anti-doping programme.” Talk about a toothless tiger! This doesn’t solve anything.
The last principle in the IOC declaration says a little bit about how sanctions would be implemented, but it evades the main point: sanctions need to be a lot tougher if they are to be effective.
Last year we saw repeated instances of athletes getting caught for intentional doping violations, serving relatively short bans, and then being allowed to be in the Olympics again.
What kind of deterrence is this? The message is: “Why not dope? Even if you get caught, the ban will probably be short and you can compete again.” The problem is even worse if, as has been claimed by some scientists, the benefits of any past doping stay with you for a very long time, maybe even for life, even if you stop doping.
Other Important Elements Not Mentioned in the Declaration
- There’s no discussion of improving drug testing, specifically out-of-competition testing, which presumably would cost more money.
- There’s no discussion of where this money would come from.
- There’s no discussion of how to get rid of organized crime’s involvement in doping.
Here’s What Really Should be Done
* Get rid of conflict of interest in WADA. There needs to be a “wall” between a WADA board with representatives of government, national federations, and athletes and the actual decisions of whom to test, when, and what the tests should consist of. We need to hear credible proposals for how this wall would work.
* Take drug testing out of the NADOs’ hands and give it to a beefed-up WADA. Leaving testing in the hands of the NADOs just isn’t going to work. It’s an open invitation to cheat, or at the very least the appearance of one. WADA appears to be the only logical candidate to be the truly independent tester. Who else could it be? So, we need to hear a good discussion of what it would take to enable WADA to do it. What has to be created, how much would it cost, and where would the money come from?
Presumably WADA wouldn’t have to start from scratch. Maybe even officials who now do testing for the NADOs could still be involved by working for WADA. Just don’t put Russian officials in charge of testing Russian athletes, for example, put them in charge of testing American athletes, and vice versa.
* Have WADA implement the Biologic Passport as the main mechanism of drug testing. This seems to be the state of the art in drug testing because it involves out-of-competition testing and because it doesn’t depend on knowing which drug the athlete used to cheat but simply whether his or her biologic markers have been exceeded by some unacceptable amount. It may not be perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got and it can continue to be improved. So we need to hear a good discussion of how this would be implemented across all Olympic sports, what the costs would be, and where the money would come from.
Here are some back-of-the-envelope calculations in that regard:
- From research last summer, I found that it costs about $6,000 per athlete per year to administer the biologic passport.
- Let’s say you want to make sure no one winning a medal has doped and the way to ensure that is to test anyone who is very likely to make an Olympic final.
- There were 306 events in the Rio Summer Olympics. Let’s just assume that some other factors cancel each other out; on one hand, some athletes compete in more than one event, but on the other hand, some are team events (and maybe you wouldn’t have to test everybody on a team). So we have 306 events and let’s say the average number in the finals is 9. So that’s 2,754 athletes to be tested, and at $6,000 a pop — that’s US $16.5 million annually.
- Then add the Winter Olympics. Wikipedia says there will be 102 events in the 2018 Winter Olympics. So, at 9 athletes per final and $6,000 apiece that would be an additional $5.5 million, giving us a grand total on the order of $22 million annually.
- That does not include the initial capital expenditure of setting up a truly independent testing organization, say, a beefed up WADA, and I admit I can’t even make a back-of-the-envelope estimate of that cost, but yes, it would be millions of dollars.
- So, where is all this money to come from? Basically from what WADA head Craig Reedie says is a global sports industry worth US $145 billon, with annual media rights fees alone totaling more than $35 billion. This industry profits tremendously from pretending that it is selling “pure” athletic competition. It’s all part of their branding. So, why not make them pay something to safeguard this image?
- Reedie suggested levying a 0.5 percent tariff on all broadcast rights fees, which he said would raise $175 million and increase WADA’s budget five-fold. (WADA currently has an annual budget of about $30 million, which is funded 50-50 by governments and sports bodies.)
- In addition, get corporate sponsors and the IOC to kick in a share to combat doping.
- Bottom line: there’s plenty of money there and the current folks who make it have a moral obligation to help clean up the Olympics.
* Make the sanctions for doping more stringent. It has been said the obstacle preventing tougher sanctions — say, a lifetime ban for the first offense — is the WADA Code. It apparently prevents governing bodies from imposing lifetime bans for first offenses unless they involve trafficking banned substances (particularly where minors are involved).
Furthermore, some have claimed the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) won’t uphold lifetime bans.
But while the CAS operates on the principles of law — proportionality of penalty to offense, for example — it also operates on the principles of the WADA Code and its penalty framework. It would seem, therefore, that if you made the Code’s penalty framework tougher, you’d have a better chance of the CAS upholding tougher penalties.
In other words, the WADA Code has to be changed to make sanctions really mean something.
But yes, if you’re going to institute lifetime bans for first offenses, there must also be an appeals process in case the infraction was not deliberate, such as if someone was trying to sabotage the athlete, or the testing was false positive, or a doctor made an honest mistake in telling the athlete the drug was OK when it wasn’t.
* Create a sports integrity unit within WADA. This would liaise with law enforcement agencies around the world, such as Interpol and the FBI, to combat doping, match fixing, corrupt betting, and other forms of cheating increasingly linked to organized crime. According to outgoing WADA director general David Howman, not only is organized crime involved in doping, the problem is getting “bigger and more serious” and is “getting too big for sport to manage.” Part of this effort would be to increase the use of countries’ legal systems to prosecute dope sellers.
You can see that by comparing what should be done to what’s being proposed now, the latter is not really serious. Without something like the solutions immediately above, we just continue the hypocrisy of pretending the Olympics is pure and a level playing field, when in reality it’s not.
But it’s going to take real political will to make the necessary changes, and I think that starts with making the public and the media aware of what’s going on, how unacceptable it is, and what’s feasible to do about it. However, political will probably also include having to remove people who are blocking change now and that’s never easy.
In short, we need to stop fooling around and instead have a really serious discussion about how to solve the problem of doping in the Olympics.