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Battling on against doping in sports

In a world where top sports performers can earn vast amounts of money, the temptation to use illegal performance-enhancing drugs has never been greater. A new report, suggesting ways of combating the problem, has just been presented to the European Commission by the Internatio...
In a world where top sports performers can earn vast amounts of money, the temptation to use illegal performance-enhancing drugs has never been greater. A new report, suggesting ways of combating the problem, has just been presented to the European Commission by the International Olympics Committee.

Background

When Ben Johnson won the 100 metres title at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the whole of Canada, his adopted country, was proud. The following day there was a national feeling of anguish as Canadians awoke to the news that Johnson had been stripped of his medal, having tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid. More recently, the 1998 Tour de France descended into farce, as police and customs discovered cars full of doping substances. These are just two examples of the illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport, but the problem is widespread. Exactly how many athletes take illegal substances will probably never be known, but there is increasing evidence that the problem is spreading down from the top echelons of professional sport to amateur - and in some cases even junior - levels.

The use of drugs by competitors is not only illegal but can also have catastrophic short-, medium- and long-term effects on the physiological and psychological health of the abuser. It is a menace which must be resisted. Unfortunately, the approach of the relevant parties - such as sports authorities and policing agencies - has, to date, been fragmented. Even if a competitor fails a dope test, inadequate sampling techniques and flawed test procedures often allow skilled lawyers to quash evidence at appeal hearings.

There is a need for a concerted approach. This is the message of the `Harmonising the ways and means of fighting doping in sport' report recently presented to the European Commission by the Medical Commission of the International Olympics Committee (IOC).

Description, impact and results

The report is the result of the `Hardop' research project, which has received 180,000 euros in EU funding since it started in 1998. The aim of Hardop was to identify the research requirements to combat doping in sport. To achieve this goal, the project workers organised a series of discussion forums and prepared a number of targeted questionnaires, with a view to discovering the opinions of relevant organisations and individuals, including sporting bodies, athletes, laboratory heads and journalists.

The results indicate the need for a central organisation to coordinate research, as ever-more sophisticated performance enhancers are being developed continually, and can only be detected using new techniques. Further, an accrediting organisation should be responsible for proposing common rules on reference materials, harmonising test procedures and carrying out quality checks. This same authority should also be an official link with other parties involved in the doping problem, such as national courts, police and customs authorities, and sporting federations. It could also be the catalyst for improving training and promoting dissemination of information.

The new `World Anti-doping Agency' is recognition of the fact that doping in sport reflects a wider societal problem, and is in line with the priorities of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), which promotes research into problems concerning the European citizen. The two main areas of study are medical research (investigating the effects of doping on health, new techniques for detecting performance enhancers, training and dissemination of information), and the scientific detection of fraud (measurement techniques, and reference materials and substances). These fall under the FP5 thematic programmes `Quality of life and management of living resources' and `Competitive and sustainable growth'.

Working partnerships

The idea for the agency was first proposed to the World Conference on Doping in Sport in Lausanne (February 1999). It is planned to set the agency up in cooperation with various inter-governmental bodies, such as the EU, the Council of Europe, the Arab Sports Confederation and the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa. International organisations, including the World Health Organisation, the United Nations International Drugs Control Programme and Interpol should also have a role to play.


Source: European Commission, DG XIII/D.4 - Information and dissemination of scientific and technical knowledge

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