Staying afloat in a tough battle

As it completes ten years, the World Anti-Doping Agency is gaining in strength

here’s the code WADA’s Director General David Howman. Reuters

When the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was launched 10 years ago on November 10, the sporting landscape was being bombarded by doping scandals with few weapons available to combat increasingly brazen drug cheats.

As WADA prepares to move into a second decade spearheading the fight against drugs in sport, the agency has compiled an impressive list of victories and built a formidable arsenal capable of attacking cheats from every angle.

"I guess it depends how you define a win," Dick Pound, WADA chief from 1999 to 2007, told Reuters. "There will always be cheaters. But the gap which maybe used to be a year or two years is now down to maybe something in the weeks. Our science is as good as theirs.

"I think you can say you've won the fight against doping in sport if you've persuaded 99.9 percent of the people not to do it because it's the wrong thing to do, it's dangerous or that they're going to get caught.

"Then you can say to that 99.9 percent that those who cheat we will catch them. We have the will and we have the means to catch them and we'll have sanctions that will take them out of your hair once we do catch them. It is winnable if everybody stays focused on it."

An anti-doping code accepted by more than 630 sports organisations and the UNESCO convention against doping in sport ratified by more than 125 of 193 member states have left drug cheats few places to hide. Tough sanctions, sophisticated testing, research and educational projects and testers armed with a whereabouts rule allowing them to check athletes anywhere at anytime have put cheats on the defensive.

Over the next 10 years it will be governments and law enforcement agencies applying the pressure as the focus shifts from catching the dopers to those who supply the drugs. IOC president Jacques Rogge has acknowledged that sports organisations cannot fight alone and will need help from governments to investigate and dismantle doping operations.

While Pound had a reputation for no-nonsense tough talking, John Fahey, the man who replaced him at the agency's helm in 2008, has brought diplomacy to the fight. Using considerable political skills sharpened by years of service in the Australian parliament, Fahey has taken a more low-key approach to the job of building powerful alliances with governments and law enforcement agencies.

"As we look at the future shape of all of this, yes we have to do tests, blood tests and urine analysis and you're going to catch people," said Pound. "But the real breakthrough is going to be through the investigative powers of the governments who get at the supply chain and find out where it's coming from and where it's going.

"Now that you've got possession of doping substances as a doping violation you can follow a shipment of steroids into the hands of an athlete. We don't have to find you positive. You are in possession of these substances, you are either using or trafficking but you're not making a sculpture at home just to look at them.

"The sanctions are now much tougher than they used to be and therefore it's worth devoting police-type resources to it.  In the old days, they would say why should we spend three years doing an investigation like BALCO and they get off with a suspended sentence or fine? It's not worth it. But if you're getting some serious jail time there is an incentive for the investigative authorities to focus on these things."
The impact governments can have on the anti-doping effort was demonstrated in the United States where a federal investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) near San Francisco unearthed one of the sporting world's biggest doping scandals, linking top names in athletics, baseball and American football to performance-enhancing drugs. The US Congress was also able to accomplish something WADA never could: force Major League Baseball to address its woeful doping record and come up with tougher testing and sanctions.  

In 2008, WADA signed a memorandum of understanding with Interpol and intensified its cooperation with the pharmaceutical industry.

Such partnerships will grow and strengthen over the next decade as WADA attempts to deal with the forces that tempt athletes to cheat. "There will still be avenues in sport through the temptations for money that will have to be addressed, whether it's doping, whether its bribery or corruption," said WADA director general David Howman. "I don't think you're going to find the stains of evil mopped up by some towel waved by WADA. We are even now confronting the introduction of some of these other evils including bribery and corruption. Sport will have to address that in serious fashion.

"I don't know whether sport will want to take that on or whether they will leave that to governments. But I'm sure if you and I talk in 2020 it will be on top of the things you will want to talk to me about."

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